Join the Movement!

All children deserve an equal opportunity for success.

Support our fight for a better education for our children.

You are here

Illinois Blog

Parting thoughts from Jean-Claude Brizard

+Share

In today's Chicago Tribune, out-going CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard leaves his parting thoughts on the state of CPS.

***

 

Chicago schools need radical change

By Jean-Claude Brizard Former CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

October 30, 2012

My first experience with public education in the U.S. was as a 12-year-old Haitian immigrant. I was placed in a classroom for non-English-speaking students in the basement of a Brooklyn middle school. I would have remained on that non-English track if, four years later, I had not convinced an administrator that I could speak English by reading him The New York Times.

I began my 26-year career in education as a teacher on Rikers Island, a New York City jail. I have heard all of the excuses for why our schools cannot succeed. Yet my own story, growing up in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, along with the many stories I have been a part of throughout my career, has taught me one thing: Education is the great equalizer.

I believe that with bold change, we can create a system that provides the competitive, world-class education that our students deserve.

In 2011, fewer than 24 percent of Chicago Public Schools graduates were prepared to attend a four-year college, and only 1 in 7 African-American students tested college-ready. While we made tremendous progress in less than two years, resulting in some historic gains, transformational change will require a radical redefinition of the district.

The bureaucracy of CPS, like most urban districts, has great inertia toward the comfortable. The fact is the public school district is an outdated model that is not flexible or responsive enough to serve the needs of all students. We must abandon the notion that a central administration can do it all and instead flip the pyramid, entrusting and empowering our principals and teachers to create great schools.

In order to break up the bureaucracy that often paralyzes, confuses or distracts schools, the central office must shift from a top-down division that dictates quality and practice for schools to a team that acknowledges that quality and effective practices lie within our schools. Central office's primary role must be to set high standards, and then codify and disseminate effective practices found within schools.

Supported by a new Office of Strategy Management, the following interrelated and mutually reinforcing levers, aligned to the initial reform blueprint that we created, can bring about the transformational change promised by my administration:

  • Empowered, effective principals. We currently have an obsession in America around teacher effectiveness. While teacher quality is critical, the current national drive toward great teacher evaluation tools will only be successful in the hands of a master carpenter. 
  • More high-quality schools. Create a mixed portfolio of schools that will push innovation and competition, breaking the district monopoly and providing parents with high-quality choices. The development of this portfolio includes the successful replication of what works and the timely closure of what does not, whether it be traditional, contract or charter. 
  • Empowered and engaged families. Districts across the country have failed miserably. Our goal must be to empower families to access, choose and shape quality school options. During my tenure, we met with communities and, together, identified the need to consolidate and reconfigure schools, including options for charter schools. The results were remarkable. These Community Action Councils came back with their own suggestions for reshaping their communities that were thoughtful and smart. They owned the problem and the solution.

Twenty-five years of reform have not produced a sufficient number of quality schools in Chicago, but sustained change can come to Chicago if we flip the pyramid and give power and voice to the true agents of this change, our principals and our teachers.

Jean-Claude Brizard resigned Oct. 11 after 17 months as CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Comments

This is such a strong commentary that one wonders why Mr. Brizzard is no longer superintendent. We must hope that his successor will pursue similar policies, and these should include allowing empowered local principals, rather than a centrally dictated contract, make decisions about teacher appraisal and staffing that are appropriate for their schools.
Having read a letter sent to teachers by the current CEO, and noticing the many incorrectly used pronouns and poorly constructed sentences, I am worried that meaningful change will come to CPS. If the person at the top is writing worse than a fifth grader, I am truly worried about CPS. She too is just a voice speaking for our mayor. Looking at the current choice, maybe, just maybe, Mr. Brizzard was a better choice.

Add a comment