Jean-Claude Brizard began his first official day of work as the Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools on Thursday, after winning appointment -- and a shiny new contract -- from the outgoing Board of Education.
The board approved a temporary one-month contract for the Haitian-born educator, who served most recently as the superintendent of the Rochester school district. He will make $250,000 a year, $15,000 more than he made in Rochester and $20,000 more than his predecessor, Ron Huberman. (As the Chicago News Cooperative points out, interim CEO Terry Mazany, who has filled the gap since Huberman's retirement in November, took a token salary of $1.)
In a month's time, the new school board will consider a longer-term contract for Brizard, but given that both the Board and Brizard himself are hand-picked favorites of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, it seems unlikely that they'll do anything but approve it.
Brizard comes to the Chicago Public Schools in a moment where much attention is being paid them -- as depicted by the word-cloud representation of Mayor Emanuel's inauguration speech. The mayor said the word "Chicago" 41 times in his address, and said either "school" or "schools" a total of 36 times (image via WBEZ):
He also brings along some baggage from his previous job. After pushing for increased charter schools and merit pay for teachers, Brizard received a vote of no confidence from 95 percent of the Rochester Teachers Union.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, charter school advocates in the city were excited at the prospect of Brizard taking the reins.
"We're really happy that the city has such strong leadership, and that CPS has such a strong leadership team that will keep the focus on where it needs to be, which is ensuring that students are actually learning," said Jennifer Cline, the communications director for New Schools for Chicago, in an interview with Huffington Post Chicago. Formerly the Renaissance Schools Fund, Cline's organization has funneled over $50 million into Chicago schools in the last seven years, mostly to the formation of new public charters.
When asked if Brizard would be explicitly pro-charter, Cline demurred. "I see them bringing a pro-quality public education focus to the city," she said. "The school model doesn't matter, what matters is that they're performing."
Even some of the new CEO's fiercest opponents appear to be taking a watch-and-wait attitude toward his tenure. When she heard about his appointment, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis reportedly said that she was going out to buy a pair of boxing gloves. But after he signed his contract, she had unusually pleasant words for Brizard.
"He's very charming," Lewis said, according to CBS. "I think he has a good skill set. So, we'll see how that works."
She won't be the only one waiting to see how it works. With the considerable force of Mayor Emanuel's will being brought to school reform, legislation percolating in Springfield, and end-of-year performance data to be released soon, Brizard will be facing intense scrutiny from all corners in his first year.