MEDIA WATCH: Deborah Quazzo, the privatization fanatic, gets a glowing review from Crain's Chicago Business, with only puffball PR put into print...

Board member Deborah Quazzo at the January 22, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.No sooner is she off the Chicago Board of Education than Chicago's corporate media has begun trying to rehabilitate the reputation of corporate executive Deborah Quazzo. Quazzo's tenure on the Board included voting without discussion or debate in favor of every contract proposed by the corrupt former CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett, and also allowing conflicts of interest as CPS did business with Quazzo's own interests.

And yet the August 7, 2015 issue of Crain's Chicago Business published a piece of puffery as craven as any that could have come out of a corporate public relations department. Media and public critics of Quazzo are all wrong, according to Crain's, and Quazzo's only interest in going on the Board of Education was to make things better for teachers and children. But once the meanies of the Chicago Sun-Times (which blew the whistle on Quazzo's corporate conflicts) and the Chicago Teachers Union got out the facts, poor Quazzo could no longer do what she loved best -- going to schools and hanging out with teachers, principals and kids. At least according to Crain's.

Note that the Quazzo puffer, which Substance received in our print subscription to Crain's does at least admit that Quazzo's continued "education" work will be with KIPP, the notoriously corrupt charter school network.


August 07, 2015


Deborah Quazzo’s commitment to education outlasts school board controversy

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Photo by Shia Kapos Deborah Quazzo

Deborah Quazzo is a Type A executive who's passionate about family, exercise and her work as an angel investor in education technology companies.

“She has an amazing ability to bring energy and momentum to whatever topic she happens to be focused on,” says friend Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels.

That energy was a draw for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who picked her for the Chicago Public Schools board in 2013. Quazzo visited 55 schools and talked to countless teachers and principals about their work. “Educators have the hardest jobs in the world,” she says.

So it was a kick in the gut, she says, when headlines blared last year that she had a conflict of interest for having a financial stake in companies that had contracts with CPS charter schools.

“It was frustrating,” says Quazzo, 54, whose investments in tech education firms were no secret to anyone who clicked on her company web page and who recused herself from board votes related to those businesses. The resulting scrutiny from the Chicago Teachers Union and others “hampered” her ability to meet with educators: “So I curtailed what I thought was my most productive work,” visiting schools. After two years on the board, she resigned in June.

Quazzo vowed to give all profits from CPS-related contracts to the district. That income, she says, totaled $2,540, and she donated an additional $380,000 to organizations that support CPS students. Though divesting from those companies would have eliminated the appearance of conflict, she says, “Giving 100 percent of the income to students is a better commitment.”

Quazzo's story was overshadowed by news that former schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett had pushed for a $20.5 million no-bid contract with her previous employer, the National Superintendents Academy, or Supes. That deal is under federal investigation, and Quazzo says she can't comment.

The CPS maelstrom wasn't Quazzo's first experience with school board politics. As a high school student in Jacksonville, Fla., she challenged the school board for not having any women members.

Her lobbying proved successful, and she witnessed the first woman named to the board—her mom. Quazzo's father headed a data-processing company serving the mortgage banking industry. “My parents are very committed civically. They're my inspiration,” says Quazzo, who graduated cum laude from Princeton University with a degree in American history and women's studies. Her senior thesis examined the National Woman's Party prior to the Equal Rights Amendment.

Quazzo started at J.P. Morgan after college in the 1980s when women in the industry were known to dress in suits and ties. “Thankfully, that uniform expectation is gone,” she says.

She left to earn her MBA from Harvard University, then worked at Merrill Lynch in New York and later Chicago, rising to managing director of the company's Global Growth Group. It was there, she says, that her “100 percent obsession with the education sector” began.

In 2001, she teamed up with Michael Moe of Merrill Lynch to form ThinkEquity Partners, an investment bank based in San Francisco. Quazzo and Moe left in 2008 and a year later formed GSV Advisors, which offers financial advising services to the education technology sector. The company is separate but under the brand umbrella of GSV Asset Management, based in Silicon Valley.

She and her husband, Stephen Quazzo, CEO of Chicago-based Pearlmark Real Estate Partners, have three children who are all “repotting” this fall—in college, graduate school or out on their own.

Quazzo, who is “obsessed” with SoulCycle exercise, plans on staying busy with her business and nonprofit work, including rejoining KIPP, or Knowledge Is Power Program, a national charter school company that operates four schools in Chicago, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

That's already on her Wikipedia page, which she spent time editing one recent morning. “Someone wrote that I'm a charter school advocate. I'm really not,” she says, adding, “Great schools come with good principals and good teachers.”


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