Jean-Claude Brizard: We 'Underestimated' Teachers Union

By Alex Parker on August 22, 2013 10:06pm 

 Former CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard (r.) said Mayor Rahm Emanuel needs to let go and let his managers lead
Former CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard (r.) said Mayor Rahm Emanuel needs to let go and let his managers lead
View Full Caption
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

CHICAGO —  Nearly a year after he resigned as Chicago Public Schools CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard broke his silence Thursday in an interview published by an education think tank, saying CPS "severely underestimated" the Chicago Teachers Union before the strike.

In the interview published by the Thomas Fordham Institute, Brizard also jabbed at Rahm Emanuel's style, saying the mayor clings too closely to power.

"I appreciated his leadership, but his one challenge is to learn to let go and allow his managers to lead," said Brizard, Emanuel's handpicked choice to lead CPS in 2011.

The mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Even during his first day on the job, when Brizard was announced as the district's new leader in April 2011, the mayor introduced his own education Cabinet and didn't allow Brizard to answer reporters' questions.

Brizard said Emanuel "is frustrated by the challenges of a school system in crisis and a crime situation that is making international headlines."

He said school districts need to do a better job of interacting with their communities, a lesson he learned when the city "severely underestimated" the power of the Chicago Teachers Union.

"We severely underestimated the ability of the Chicago Teachers Union to lead a massive grassroots campaign against our administration. It’s a lesson for all of us in the reform community," he said. "The 'how' is at times more important than the 'what.' We need to get closer to the people we are serving and create the demand for change in our communities."

He said a "growing rift between City Hall and me" made last year's strike more difficult, requiring School Board Chairman David Vitale to step in and negotiate with the Chicago Teachers Union.

The eight-day teacher strike put the nation's attention on Chicago. Brizard said he was busy coordinating efforts to keep displaced students safe. 

"I spent the day before the strike baptizing my youngest son at an amazing church in the Englewood section of Chicago. The presiding priest, Father Michael Pfleger, is a courageous Jesuit," Brizard said, referring to St. Sabina parish, which is in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, near Englewood.

"His audacity in the face of life-threatening challenges always gave me strength. While the strike was made more difficult by a growing rift between City Hall and me, I spent the week managing two key initiatives. We open centers around the city to serve as safe havens for students using mostly non-union staff, community-based organizations, city parks and libraries. The coordination was massive."

Now a senior adviser at the College Board, Brizard and CPS parted ways in a mutual agreement in October 2012 after the strike was settled, with some declaring the teachers the winners.  His departure paved the way for new CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to take over.

On Emanuel, Brizard called him "an interesting man."

"I received a ton of advice on how to work with and for him, but in hindsight, few of these pieces of advice were helpful," he said. "[The mayor] was always 'on' and a master at managing media. He is actually best when he is not on stage. My best meeting with him was off stage, away from the lights at a private table in a steakhouse. He was thoughtful, funny, and caring.

"While I never experienced the man with the 'reputation,' I certainly can see that possible side. I experienced a man who loves his family dearly and is frustrated by the challenges of a school system in crisis and a crime situation that is making international headlines."

Read the rest of Flypaper's interview with Brizard here.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement