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Chicago was Rochester on steroids.

Jean-Claude Brizard has now resigned from two districts because he’s a “distraction.” He’s now been run out of town by two teachers unions. He’s now been criticized in two districts for his lack of communication skills, management style and inability to implement ideas.

Both districts hired him because he was from the vaunted group of education reformers. He charmed both districts with stories of closing bad schools, merit pay, raising graduation rates, holding teachers accountable and not accepting poverty as an excuse.

But there is no education reform without a road map. There is no education reform without a buy-in from all stakeholders. There is no education reform without good leadership.

Good leaders must have followers. Good leaders must bring along their troops. Good leaders must get buy-in from stakeholders.  Good leaders can’t break promises.

Brizard failed as a leader.

There’s no question he’s the fall guy for the strike that shut down the nation’s third-largest school district and kept 400,000 students home for a week. But good leaders don’t let schools implode on their watch. The Chicago strike was a bellwether in the education reform movement as much as it was a smackdown to a failed leader.

A Chicago columnist sent me an email saying, “Can’t say you didn’t warn us!”

I covered Brizard’s tenure extensively. He engaged in gross misrepresentations of data and sometimes outright lied. He made promises he didn’t keep. He did one thing while saying another. But I was the only one holding him accountable. The business and political establishment loved the guy. The rest of the media in Rochester, particularly the Democrat and Chronicle, did not question the superintendent. (Around the country, the media has been slow to challenge the “reformers.”) It seemed everyone hated teachers and refused to believe their complaints about their boss.

I’d never gone up against such a machine. Brizard’s relentless spin and the fact I was reporting in a vacuum made even some of my colleagues question my work. His staff tried to get me removed from covering the school district. It was not an easy time.

Despite my contentious professional relationship with Brizard, I take no joy from his downfall in Chicago. He is a human being with a family. I’m sure he truly cares about educating children. His reputation has been destroyed (though these ex-superintendents have a way of popping up elsewhere). The mayor who hired him deserves much of the blame for the chaos that ensued during his time as CEO. What happened in Rochester and Chicago is sad.

Chicago has now put someone in charge who is known for collaboration. Sound familiar?

49 Responses to If We Don’t Learn From History…

  1. One good thing about the Brizzard story is that it shows how quickly a bad hire can be corrected when the mayor runs the public school system.

    • October 12, 2012 at 9:38 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      So not true. Chicago will pay him through the end of his contract. The RCSD has also gotten rid of superintendents. But contracts are contracts, even under mayoral control.

    • October 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm Tom Carbone responds:

      Rachel why should you feel bad for this guy? He would not have felt bad if he cost you your job nor would he have felt bad for any teacher that would have lost his/her job. Brizard is self important and bloated with ego. Its just a shame he doesnt have the abilities to back up his arrogance. I, for one, hope he ends up biggie sizing my next lunch at McDonalds because he might be able to do that….and thats right I said MIGHT!

    • October 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm Tom Carbone responds:

      Hey genius…..the mayor hired him! Perhaps had Rahm done his homework he would have noticed that JC was a disaster in Rochester and had just had a 95% vote of no confidence. What do you expect from some Obama lackey!

  2. Ok, devil’s advocate time… Have you seen Waiting For Superman? The system is dangerously flawed and the teacher’s union appears to be uninterested in anything but a “spend more” mentality. The RBJ issued their 25th anniversary magazine yesterday and some wild stats were in there. RCSD spent $6784/student in 1987 and now spends $18,225/student while Monroe County average incomes rose by less than 50%. Teachers demand more money, more support, more… well, just about everything – yet the increases in funding that outpace area income increases by 2x the speed are not helping. The decline in RCSD has been remarkable. That’s where Brizard was focused. Is it warranted to negotiate with the teachers union at all? I don’t know. Thoughts?

    • October 12, 2012 at 9:37 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      None of the education reform movement’s ideas, including charter schools and merit pay, are proven. Good charter schools are good for the children who get it. But there are also bad charter schools. And why is it that we only criticize urban teachers? Are they so much worse than teachers in Pittsford? I think we know the answer to that. If we want to reform inner city schools, we must address the gross concentration of poverty in these districts.

    • To begin with before arguing that costs are somehow out of control, you might want to account for inflation. Adjusted for inflation the $6784/ per student in 1987 equates to $13757 in inflation adjusted dollars. As to teachers demanding “more money , more more support more…”, are teachers supposed to be the only occupation that can’t try to improve their salaries? Are Chicago teachers inflation adjusted dollars any higher in 2012 then in 1987?

  3. I had no idea… As an outsider looking in, its tough to figure out where the problem is. I am glad to hear how passionate the teachers are about reforming. Hopefully Roch will hop on that band wagon. high school was a joke (and I went to a good one).

  4. October 12, 2012 at 9:23 am Dave Atias responds:

    Rachel, you may have been the only one in the media to call Brizard on his wiley ways, but you weren’t the only one in the community. You may not have meant that, but it reads that way.

  5. I as a parent again I thank you for being honest to report the truth to us.

  6. October 12, 2012 at 10:28 am Peking Humonculous responds:

    Brizard walks away from both situations with tons of taxpayer money in his bank account. That’s who loses- the taxpayers. And all I ever hear from the likes of you, Rachel, is that the poverty in the city needs to be addressed, the poverty in the city needs to be addressed. How do you address the poverty in the city? No one seems to know that part. But they repeat that phrase ad hominem as though it’s some magical incantation that will fix the problem. Here’s the truth that no one seems to want to face- when you have a 50% truancy rate, a 47% graduation rate isn’t that hard to believe.

  7. October 12, 2012 at 11:08 am Peking Humonculous responds:

    Okay, a couple of mistakes I’d like to own up to in my hastily composed reply: 1) it is not only the taxpayers who lose. Obviously the students and their families incur a much larger loss. 2) “ad hominem” was not the correct phrase to use in that sentence. Thanks.

  8. Right on. It’s not the teachers in urban school districts that the attendance rate is lower the burbs and rural districts. It’s all on PARENTS, but parents would rather point the finger at others than themselves.

  9. October 12, 2012 at 11:20 am theodore kumlander responds:

    I was working for RCSD at that time and i was surprised at the guts Rachel showed reporting on the Brizzard. I seen Brizzard three times and you could tell he could care less what people were saying to him even when they were kissing his butt. He was brought into break the teachers union just like Clifford Janey and they failed and will always fail because together we bargin alone we beg.

  10. How many minority Supers have we had now that did nothing here, got no results improvements yet all get bigger better jobs in bigger districts only to then fail there? Many of them also won “awards” from their peers.
    This whole system is scam top to bottom. Charter schools, vouchers are the only way. End the school boards assn. end the contracts, get rid of the union, the School boards, urbanski etc consolidate whats left, How many kids have these organizations and people wasted over the last 30yrs? How much money? For results that only 50% Graduate with reduced standards vs 30yrs ago. Excuses after excuses. They all should be ashamed

  11. October 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm Mark Giardina responds:

    I can not begin to count how many superintendents of schools the city of Rochester went through over the past 30 years. Most of them seem to have one thing in common; paraphrasing a popular saying: All brag….no fact”. While graduation rates plummeted these gentlemen made certain their six-figure salaries and added perks were not impacted in the slightest. What is truly sad is that the odds are in Brizzard’s favor that he will land yet another high-paying position in another city.

  12. October 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm Ginny Maier responds:

    I appreciate your mix of emotions at Brizard’s downfall in Chicago, Rachel. It takes a lot of courage and conviction to swim against the stream the way you did as a reporter on this story, but being right all along still doesn’t feel very good, I’m sure. Keep up the great work and know that you have fans who are grateful for you independence.

  13. This is all the result of the “business model” that has become the norm of progression up the ranks of all public sector jobs. Pad the resume properly (according to the Jack Welch type ‘leaders’) and you will sucker some school district, police or fire department, small town, whatever public sector into thinking that you actually can lead. Leadership is taught best by our military (especially the Marine Corps) and it has always held that you promote from within. If you don’t have sufficiently trained future leaders in-system than the current leadership has failed to prepare it’s ‘troops’. These nitwits traveling the country padding their bank accounts with 1-2 year disasters are hired by people exactly like them, leaders on paper only. Enough with national searches for local problems. The sooner the Jack Welch’s of the world are ignored the sooner our country can get back to ‘all politics is local’.

  14. Rachel,

    Very good analysis with very personal perspective.

  15. The premise that these so called leaders espouse and promote is a fallacy. No one can lead on a lie and Brizzard leads on a lie. Believe me the wealthier school districts aren’t doing better under NCLB or Race to the Top either. The “reformers ” may have started with poorer school districts where citizens have less power but the wealthier districts are consumed by test scores and looking good on the surface, their constituents actually voted the politicians who support these laws and bought into them. Morality is out the window as wealthier parents make sure their kids get a bigger piece of the pie.

  16. link? Rachel, I thought that you were mostly criticizing the teacher’s unions in your stories.

    • October 12, 2012 at 4:04 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:


      Not sure what you mean? What link are you looking for?

      I’m actually not anti-union. I don’t disagree there should be reforms, such as greater contributions to pensions and speedier resolution of discipline issues, I don’t believe we should throw the baby out with the bath water. The current obsession with blaming teachers for the ills of urban schools has gone too far. Unions are not to blame, or else we would be saying suburban districts, which are also unionized, would be in shambles, too.

  17. “But I was the only one holding him accountable.”

    You helped Rachel, but you were a minor player.

    Adam Urbanski and the RTA fought Brizard on the cold streets of Rochester and in the garbage known as the Democrat and Chronicle. They battled Bob Duffy, David Gant, Joe Morelle, twenty two local college presidents,and Brizard to stop the Broad Institute. This was a victory for Rochester and then Urbanski fought to rid Chicago of that scumbag.

    They held him accountable.

    • October 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:


      In no way am I suggesting only the media hold the powerful accountable. I shared my experience of covering him to illustrate why a robust media is important. My career was on the line, not because anything I reported was wrong or I didn’t go to great lengths to get balance, but because I was alone. It is great to break stories and lead the way, but if no one else follows up, you’ll be marginalized. This was not my experience in covering previous superintendents who had some of the same problems.

      And please don’t minimize my work. I don’t report on things to get people fired, as you’re implying. I report on things to be a check on government and tell the public things they wouldn’t otherwise know.


  18. October 12, 2012 at 4:52 pm Art Greenberg responds:

    Great article. I wish our union had the guts to do the same thing as the CTU did. It’s about time corporate reformers show “real” evidence proving that their Special Mix of teaching is better than ours. If they can’t, then shut up and get out of our way. Parents must be held responsible. The media must be held responsible (Children cannot focus because of the “Rapid-Fire” creation method and the way programming is presented). Our students know only this: nothing else matters. Take the tests get a 2. Grow up rich. That’s their reality. Snooky TV wins. Everyone loses!

  19. October 12, 2012 at 6:51 pm Edward Richards responds:

    To say more can should have been done hold jc brizzard accountable is preposterous.

    But when u r the only one talking, and no one appears to be doing anything, or listening, it becomes frustrating to say the least. I’m ashamed at the leadership in Rochester. Not just jc, but the whole institution , especially parents.

    Come on people, my oh my…

  20. Whatever happened to all the coats and hats that “JC” collected for the poor kids after he was criticized for not closing school on a bitterly cold day? I remember seeing one follow up report showing that many coats were still in storage in an RCSD warehouse the following year.

  21. October 12, 2012 at 7:23 pm Animule responds:

    Brizard was given a free pass by the local media because he was black, and in the eyes of the D&C at least, that trumps everything else including skill and competence. It’s the same reason that David Gantt can hire a private investigator to go door-to-door, harassing people that signed petitions for Cruz in the recent primary in the city, and almost nobody in the media made a big stink about it. Imagine if Gantt was white, and hired a private eye to investigate blacks and hispanics signing petitions? He would have been run out of town on a rail and would have been accused of “voter disinfrancisement.” Instead, they’re naming buildings after him.

    • October 13, 2012 at 1:58 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Cliff Janey was black and didn’t get a pass.

      • October 13, 2012 at 9:34 am Animule responds:

        Janey’s employment history in some ways validates my point. Janey gets booted from Rochester, hired in Washington, DC, fired there in 2007. Then he moves to Newark, New Jersey and gets fired there in 2011. Janey and Brizard have a lot in common – hot air, false promises of “reform” and the ability to ‘fail upwards” which is to assume larger positions after having failed at smaller ones. The unwritten rule in large city school districts is that if you are qualified and are white, you need not apply. You must be black or Hispanic to be hired. Look at Vargas; you think a district like Fairport, Pittsford or Brighton would have hired a guidance counselor to run things? He would not have even had an interview at those schools.

        • October 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

          I just don’t think race has a lot to do with it, although there are certainly people who would like minority leaders of the RCSD. Interim superintendent Bill Cala, who is white, was quite popular.

          • October 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm Animule responds:

            How come the RCSD is surrounded by some of the most successful and nationally ranked school districts in the country, but when an opening for Superintendent at the RCSD takes place, rarely if ever does the RCSD ever consider or aggressively go after a candidate from one of the most successful suburban school districts in the country? In any other field (athletics, for instance), that would be the FIRST place a district would look for a replacement.

  22. As an employee of the RCSD, I can say that he was a horrible leader. He openly lied to staff about school closings and staffing promises. He was unreachable and did not correspond with teachers or parents. I was at several events where he showed his face, only to leave early. His concern was to raise test scores; and the arts, library and Phys. Ed. were all seen as unnecessary.

    Hopefully the Chicago School District and families will be better served under their new leadership.

    Thank you Rachel for your continued professionalism and investigations on matters that are of concern to us in the Rochester area.

  23. October 12, 2012 at 10:36 pm Derek Sanderson responds:

    I love people like Oreilley, who just keep spewing the same right wing talking points over and over. ” charters and vouchers” they cry, that will fix everything. Actually, that will fix nothing. What Oreilley fails to grasp is that the main problems in the RCSD stem, not from bad teachers, from horrible attendance and other effects of poverty. Converting the schools to charters will not eliminate the underlying problems that result in poor academic performance, not even close. Sure, you will take parents’ rights away and have a lower paid teaching corps, but how will that yield better results? Oreilley and his ilk have no clue what it is like to teach in an urban school and their ” solutions” reflect their ignorance. Oreilley should get off his computer and get certified to teach, take a position in an urban school, and get back to us in 3 to 5 years when he has some experience and knows what he’s talking about. I doubt he will still be babbling about incompetent teachers and the ” unions” and other such nonsense.

    If you really want to do something to help urban students, stop the teacher bashing and start advocating to end the de facto segregation that presently exists. Start pushing for some form of metro school district, one which will integrate students from the city and the suburbs. When you end the concentration of poverty and create classrooms that have students from different backgrounds and economic levels, then you will give the city students a fighting chance. Shifting them, en mass, from a public school to a charter school , where 90 percent come from poverty stricken homes, is not going to produce the dramatic increases in test scores that you’re clammoring for. Like I said, spend some time in the schools. You will realize how assinine your assertions about those” bad teachers” is.

  24. A great article, Rachel. I enjoy reading all of your blogs. You are honest and well versed on your topic. THank you for keeping Roc on its toes.
    You were right about JC! I hope all the comments that follow are honest enough to let you know.
    Sadly, there are many at the top — In Monroe, Wayne, Ontario, Genesee, Livingston CO. who do NOT belong at the top . If you want a great expose, look into the corruption of how credits are awarded in some districts around THIS area!

    • October 13, 2012 at 2:01 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Thank you.

      I think it’s important to note I wasn’t “right” or “wrong” about anything. I only reported stories.

  25. October 13, 2012 at 7:35 am Ginny Maier responds:

    Good point.

  26. Metro schools? Why? What happened to work hard, aim high, found a better life for your kids?
    Generations of immigrants did that here, suddenly the only way to ‘fix’ it now is to force people to move (kids in the burbs will HAVE to come in to City schools in a Metro district or are you just shuttering all city buildings?). Try getting all of the loudmouth people who claim to have a vested interest (yes, I’m talking to every street corner preacher, political ‘activist’, do-gooder, et al) to DEMAND accountability and responsibility from parents. The saying ‘just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you have to be dirty’ is a good analogy. Poor doesn’t mean unable to learn, poor means poor. Having a crap home life is separate from wealth. Hold people having kids to task, end all bussing, local elementary schools, local high schools. End all of the shifting around and watch neighborhoods improve. Stop moving kids around for 12 years.

  27. Rachel, keep up the good work. I read your blog everyday. I also read our local paper everyday as well as various online publications. I want to read facts. I can make my own conclusions. In regards to the RCSD, I have little if any interest. They have a right to run their district as they want. The results speak for themselves. I do believe that teachers in the city schools are as qualified as teachers in the city schools….no difference there. As a few previous posters have mentioned, the difference is the message the kids are receiving relative to their upbringing. Do kids in the suburbs have parents that insist on learning, obedience, attendance? Do kids in the city have that same message? All I read is that kids in the city are poor. How does raising teacher salaries help this? If anything, they should lower salaries. This would allow the same pool of money to hire more teachers and lower classroom sizes. Sorry, I got off the subject of JC Brizzard. He certainly proved to be a con man. He is just one of the many con men that seem to be failures. You reported it then. Good for you (and us the public). When will the cities learn that there is no substitute for the proven basics of education and stop hoping for a miracle worker. Hire a leader from within, somebody who has shown the qualities needed in a leader and someone who knows the culture. Kodak is another example. How can Perez still have a job? How did he get hired in the first place?

  28. OAJ, see my earlier reply about the ‘business model’ of hiring that has infected public employment at all levels. Resume’s trump everything when you follow the teachings of Jack Welch, Trump and that style of ‘businessmen’. JCB is the same as Perez and the rotating police chiefs and even our mayor; people who looked good on paper. Unfortunately the opposite of this appears to be having incompetent but loyal ‘party’ members elected to the governing bodies (council, school board) regardless of their skills. Resumes govern as poorly as the ‘party’ elites. This leads to apathy which then becomes the excuse of poverty.

  29. Chris9059Chris9059, Inflation calculations don’t fix the disparity. The reason I brought up the income shift in Monroe County was to call attention inflation without having to actually calculate it exactly (which I don’t feel like doing with my Saturday). The fact remains that our city schools do worse with more money – adding more money is just naive. I understand that comparing Urban to Suburban is unfair based on parent involvement but there are urban charters, suburban and private schools operating on far less with far greater success. In the city our best example is our various charter schools that have less funding and greater success with a randomly selected group from the same streets as RCSD. (Check out Urban Choice Charter School if you are interested in seeing this in action.)

  30. To the comment about O’Riley and Vouchers/Charters – consider how free markets and human behavior change things. Let’s say we get vouchers and charters become plentiful. What do you think will be the first move? I say it will be the attentive parents who move their kids to a safer, more enriching atmosphere. The city schools, now full of potentially truant students and truly hard cases will be forced into becoming specialists in caring for and teaching this group of kids. This may open the door for a different type of focus on the very parents that are not helping their own kids. So, we have prepared students with involved parents in a group where they can excel. We also then have a group of kids who are the opposite that might have a shot at turning their story around because the traditional public school has morphed into a positive place just for them. The beauty of it all is that this would be driven by personal decisions by the individual citizen.

  31. October 14, 2012 at 10:21 am My third eye responds:

    Rachael is the quentisential journalist. She has a passion for her job, we should demand that passion for All media outlets. For those who are critizing her work go and read bland as mayo D&C. Myself I would like to know what the heck is going on, not how many folks attended the highland festival. The union needs to take a page from ms. Barnhart blog and grow some. By the way we teachers pay 80 bucks a week for protection – do your friggin job or I’d rather give my hard working money to he board( and yes I meant it)

  32. we have michele hancock here, just north 45 min from Chicago,doing what she has learned from working under Brizard. It’s the same stuff in many ways… our media is ignoring it too. The only timethey write about it is if they can make it a union issue. They don’t mention all the parents that speak at the SB mtg and the students. Please help, look into this and write about it. Marilyn Patterson Grant is a paid consultant as is Sonia James Wilson both from Rochester.Hancock is only concerned with using our Kenosha Unfied School System for her personal research w her colleagues who are paid consultants. It stinks and she has created chaos in our schools, suppression of suspensions, multiage classrooms, lowest teachermorale ever, a new teacher handook to replace Collective bargaining contract, teacher intimidation to not speak up about concerns with our Supers Transformation Plan (which btw ourdistrict did not need)watered down education for equity sake, got rid of true honors classes in our middle schools and tried to do it in the high schools, we have the BROAD INSTITUTE VIRUS,trying to bring in IB international bachleaurette to replace the AP classes.. my way or the high way leadership and she has her following of butt kissers. Involved in the community right when she got here 2 years ago from Rochester where she was Human Capital Initiatives HR in Brizards Cabinet. Waht do we do to get noticed…

  33. yikes sorry about al the type-os I have been up all night. We need a reporter like Rachael here 🙂 Our radio guy won’t touch it for some reason, it is very odd…

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