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.