Zrike to New Bedford after less than three years as 'Chief of Schools' for the Pilsen Little Village Network... Another out-of-town mercenary leaves Chicago

Do they know something about the present regime at Chicago Public Schools that the rest of us don't? For the second time in less than two months, a top administrators brought to Chicago to supposedly "save" CPS (from Chicago people?) is leaving. On March 19, 2013, Chicagoans who were paying attention learned that by a narrow vote, the school board in New Bedford Massachusetts had selected Stephen Zrike to be their new superintendent of schools (like most American school districts, New Bedford has a "superintendent," not a Chief Executive Officer). Zrike had been in Chicago for a couple of years as the "Chief of Schools" for the Pilsen Little Village "Network."

One of Stephen Zrike's supporters on the New Bedford school board said gushingly that getting Zrike to come to New Beford was like "getting Maryl Streep" to play in a local theater, as if Zrike had become some kind of USA superstar during his time in Chicago.A few weeks earlier, Jennifer Cheatham, who had been Chicago's "Chief Instruction Officer," left to become superintendent of Madison Wisconsin. Neither Zrike nor Cheatham had ever taught in a Chicago school or been a principal in one. Cheatham had come to Chicago from California, where most of her career was in education consulting. Zrike had been a principal in Boston promising to "turn around" a poor Boston school before he abruptly left town there.

A newspaper report brought the news to Chicagoans who are paying attention.

Dr. Stephen Zrike Chosen as Wakefield School Superintendent. School Committee voted 4-3 in favor of Zrike before adopting motion to re-state vote as unanimous. For now though, he also happens to be a finalist for New Bedford superintendent.

By William Laforme Email the author March 8, 2013

The Wakefield School Committee voted to offer Dr. Stephen Zrike the superintendent's position, potentially capping a months-long search process. Zrike currently oversees the Pilsen-Little Village network of more than two dozen public schools in the Chicago area, and he is a former principal of the Blackstone Elementary School in Boston.

Board members voted 4-3 in favor of Zrike after nearly an hour of discussion. Chris Callanan, Kevin Piskadlo and Chair Tom Markham voted in favor of current Wakefield High School Principal Dr. Kimberley Smith. Lisa Butler, Kate Morgan, Janine Cook and Vice Chair Anne Danehy voted for Zrike. After the initial vote, the board adopted a motion by Piskadlo to make it a unanimous vote for Zrike.

The meeting began with several people, including Fire Chief Michael Sullivan and School Committee candidate (and WHS 2012 graduate) Evan Kenney making statements in support of Smith.

Later, board member Lisa Butler said that Zrike also had considerable support within the town and suggested that "I do think (Smith) is the future" and that Zrike "can actually mentor her." In explaining his support for Dr. Smith, Piskadlo said that "we don't need someone to come in with a sledgehammer," and he predicted that Smith is "actually going to be there in five years still."

Danehy later said that Zrike had never said in his interviews that he did not plan to stay in Wakefield longer than five years. "I just think that we have a superstar with Dr. Zrike" said Danehy, who also compared him to Meryl Streep walking in to audition for a community theater production. However, she also said that Smith is a superstar at the high school who may be a future superintendent candidate. With that in mind, one thing that seemed to separate the Zrike supporters and Smith supporters on the board was the question of whether Zrike would decide to move on from Wakefield after just a few years.

Ultimately, both superintendent finalists drew glowing praise from the school committee members - Zrike for his work in turning around troubled schools and Smith for her accomplishments in building up the Wakefield music program and other qualities. One thing that could complicate the matter is the fact that as of Thursday night, Zrike was also still a finalist for the superintendent position in New Bedford. If the New Bedford School Committee also votes in favor of Zrike, he would be able to enter into contract negotiations with both districts. "We could be in a bidding war on Saturday morning," said Markham. The committee voted unanimously to set a March 22nd deadline to successfully negotiate a contract with Zrike.



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