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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

What’s Next for Jean-Claude Brizard?

The outgoing CPS CEO once described the negative effect of “revolving door superintendencies” on school districts. The average, Brizard said, was 18 months. He lasted only 17. What’s next for him?

When I interviewed Jean-Claude Brizard in September 2011, then on the job as Rahm’s pick for schools chief for just five months (read part 1 and 2), he described the negative effect of “revolving door superintendencies” on school districts. The average, Brizard said, was 18 months. He lasted only 17. (His superintendency in Rochester, the post he abruptly left to come to Chicago, lasted about three years.)

Thursday night, after hearing news of his resignation—by “mutual agreement,” according to news reports—I remembered how, in our September 2011 conversation, I was especially struck by Brizard’s sense of wistfulness—just the slightest disengagement that made me think he would not last long. “I’m not doing another superintendency,” he told me back then. “This is it for me. However long this lasts…. I intend to be here as long as they let me stay.”

So I wondered, what’s next for the 49-year-old?

Even then, Brizard easily imagined a life after CPS, volunteering that he might be interested in working on charter schools with his second wife, Katherine Brooke Stafford Brizard, who holds a doctorate from Columbia in cognitive studies in education, perhaps in “fulfilling one dream I’ve always had…. building a set of schools in the city somewhere.” (Could anything be more distasteful to union teachers, symbolized by Karen Lewis who believes that charters cannibalize the public system? Brooke Brizard was also a Teach for America corps member; TFA is another Karen Lewis bogeyman.)

Brizard also told me that when his family was still in Rochester, they talked about moving to the suburb of Boston after his time as superintendent was up. He mentioned that his wife had attended high school at the private and exclusive Concord Academy, that she loved the area and would relish returning.

He added that his wife loves Chicago and was enthusiastic about the opportunity to move here. “She has always wanted to live in Chicago. One of her best friends was a professor at the University of Chicago.” So, perhaps they will stay put. He mentioned that he could also see himself teaching principals or working for a foundation. 

At the time, I was struck by Brizard’s honesty—some would call it naiveté—his easily admitting to me that he never dreamed of being a teacher; he wanted to be a cop, specifically a crime scene investigator who worked in the isolation of a laboratory. “I was always the kind of person who loved behind-the-scenes work…. I loved being number two…. I loved being the person, if you have a vision I’ll be happy to implement it for you.” He never “relished,” he added, “being this public face” confronting the firing line (that would be Rahm). He also told me of a dashed career plan to be a DEA agent and his continuing love for the Coast Guard. (He remains a member of the Guard Auxillary and served as part of a flotilla on Long Island.)

Brizard also mentioned in 2011 that, at the time Rahm came calling, he was also considering going to Newark to run the schools there. He spoke of the discomfort he felt in having to call Newark Mayor Cory Booker to tell him he was heading to Chicago instead. (Wondering if Brizard might be looking to go to Newark now, I called Booker’s press office. A spokesman there told me that Newark has a superintendent, Cami Anderson, and that the mayor does not control the schools. He suggested I call the communications department of the Office of the Superintendent. Attempts to call or leave a message with the Office of the Superintendent were unsuccessful.)

A phone call and email to Brizard were not answered by post time.

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