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New CPS CEO Draws on Experience

By Ted Cox | October 12, 2012 4:47pm
 Barbara Byrd-Bennett addresses the media after being introduced by Mayor Emanuel (background) as head of the Chicago Public Schools.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett addresses the media after being introduced by Mayor Emanuel (background) as head of the Chicago Public Schools.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CHICAGO — In presenting Barbara Byrd-Bennett as the new chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, "She has been part of ushering in the kinds of changes we want to see."

She has done that in New York City, Cleveland and Detroit, setting her up to head the nation's third-largest school system, with more than 400,000 students at almost 700 schools.

Byrd-Bennett taught more than a dozen years in New York's public schools at the elementary and high school levels. She was a principal in Harlem, and went on to serve as superintendent, first in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, the city's third-largest district, and then as head of the so-called Chancellor's District, an amalgamation of a dozen of the city's lowest-performing schools. She instituted one-on-one tutoring that produced higher reading scores and led to improvements in the city's GED program.

In 1998, she became the first person appointed as Cleveland's school CEO after the district was placed under mayoral control. She inherited a $150 million deficit, but balanced the budget each year of her tenure. The number of fourth and sixth-graders who met state math and reading standards more than doubled over five years, and graduation rates climbed from 28 percent to more than half.

Byrd-Bennett spent four years as executive-in-residence at Cleveland State University and three years with New Leaders for New Schools in Washington, D.C. She returned to inner-city education in 2009, serving two years as chief academic and accountability manager in Detroit, where she aligned curriculum and programming and developed new methods of evaluating teachers and principals. She joined CPS in April as chief education adviser and then chief education officer, where according to Emanuel she played an integral role in negotiating an end to the seven-day teachers' strike in September.

Emanuel praised her experience, but also her passion. He said she had created "a culture of accountability" wherever she had gone.

"I remain a teacher," Byrd-Bennett said, "a teacher who's had the privilege of leading now our nation's third-largest school district."