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Chicago Public Schools CEO to be replaced

CHICAGO (MCT) — Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard is out, to be replaced permanently by the school system’s chief education officer, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday.

Brizard, who has been the CEO for about 17 months, made a mutual decision with the mayor that it was best he leave the top school post, mayoral spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said.

“J.C. spoke with (school board President) David Vitale and the mayor, and said, ‘I’m becoming a distraction. This is becoming more about me than it is about our mission to help the kids,’” Hamilton said.

Reached at home Thursday night, Brizard said: “Yes, it was a mutual agreement. I came to him (the mayor) about a week and a half ago.”

Brizard said the decision was made then. “We had a long discussion. I really believe the mayor should have the CEO he wants to have.”

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a former CEO in the Cleveland school system who has been serving as the interim chief education officer for CPS, will take over Brizard’s post, effective immediately, Hamilton said.

Brizard’s decision to step down “was fairly recent,” Hamilton said.

Brizard’s departure had been rumored for weeks, speculation that gained steam as he was virtually absent during much of the drama of a seven-day teachers strike and negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union.

In late August amid heated negotiations between the district and the teachers union, sources told the Tribune that education and business leaders told Brizard that the mayor would blame him for letting the labor situation with teachers get out of hand.

Emanuel flatly denied that report at the time and expressed full confidence in his schools chief. “As soon as I heard about this, I called J.C. and said, ‘You focus on the full school day, full school year. You’re doing a great job,’” Emanuel said.

But Brizard’s management style was criticized by the Chicago Board of Education in his annual evaluation. The board gave Brizard low marks for the way he communicates and runs the district.

“The organizational effectiveness of CPS could be substantially improved with a more coherent and decisive management decision-making process,” Vitale wrote in a June 11 letter to Brizard that accompanied the review.

Still, Vitale commended Brizard for a “challenging, but solid year” and wrote that he is “off to a good start in year one and there is significant potential to have year two and beyond be even better.”

Brizard also has drawn fire for high turnover in both cabinet-level positions and department heads. The chief education officer resigned in April on the heels of two other cabinet-level departures.

Emanuel named Brizard as the district’s CEO in April 2011, a month before Emanuel officially became mayor.

Brizard came to Chicago from Rochester, N.Y., where he spent about three years as schools superintendent. He was also a teacher and administrator in New York City for 20 years.

Emanuel charged him with the task of instituting a longer school day and year, which turned out to be a lengthy and arduous process that drew significant opposition from the CTU as well as many parents.

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