Jean-Claude Brizard on Rahm, CTU President Karen Lewis, and More
Yesterday, I posted part one of my interview with Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. Here, part two of our conversation, in which he talks about his typical day, his relationship with Rahm and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, whether he’ll send his son to public school, and more
CF: How have you found Rahm Emanuel as a boss?
J-CB: Rahm is on a fast pace, wants to get going, wants to start day one.
CF: Have you been on the receiving end of one of his infamous profanity sprees?
CF: What do you make of the charge by Chicago Teachers’ Union President Karen Lewis that Rahm let loose some profanities at her?
J-CB: I wasn’t there, but I think entire story is not being told by Karen.
CF: What’s your relationship like with her?
J-CB: Our relationship is actually cordial. We at times agree do disagree. We have similar backgrounds—both chemistry teachers. At the forum we just did together, she called me a liar in French and tried to get a reaction out of me. We agreed to have dinner, she and I, my wife and her husband. I told her, “You yourself as a teacher know we need more time. Help me implement this. Stop watching from the window. Come inside the room. Tell me what it would take to get you on this [longer day committee]. I don’t want to do this without the union. I really do think that teachers unions have evolved. They were created for good reason. When you look at what happened to teachers in the `50s, `60s and even `70s—it’s unjust. [But] we have overcorrected. What we are doing not just in Chicago but across the country is discouraging a lot of young people from coming into education. They don’t what to see themselves being vilified by people who [see] teachers unionized as blue-collar workers. They want to be treated as professionals.
CF: You have pledged to send your son to CPS when it comes time. What were you thinking when you heard that Rahm Emanuel is sending his three children to private school—the University of Chicago Lab School?
J-CB: I don’t remember if he talked to me about it before, he may have. I think I did know before the news broke, but it doesn’t bother me at all. My wife went to a private school for high school, and it was one of the best experiences she has ever had. She’s a public school advocate, and so am I, and our kids will go to public school. I am such a believer in choice so it doesn’t bother me.
CF: What’s a typical day like for you?
J-CB: Yesterday, I went from seven to about to six; the day before that, from seven to nine. Typical day for me is minimum 12 hours. Sixty to seventy percent of my time is outside of CPS, talking to principals or community groups or meeting people for lunch. I try to get in schools at least twice a week. A few days ago, I got home, I walked in and my wife was singing “Cat’s in the Cradle.” My son goes to bed at 7:30. I leave around 6:30 in the morning. He’s not yet awake, and when I get home he’s asleep. If he happens to wake up too early, like he did this morning at 2 a.m., I’m the one to go in and I rock him back to sleep. I go to the gym once a week. I try to make as much time as I can. If I get home before 7:30, I’ll give him a bath; that allows me to connect. My daughter, I try to call at least three-to-four times a week on the way home. “How was your homework?” I took Friday off to go to Long Island to meet her teacher. The superintendent knows I’m coming, so we’ll meet as well. I want the teacher to know I exist and I’m part of her life. Especially with a young girl, you want the teachers to know that. You’re not going to see me at the PTA meeting. I might miss that concert. But I make a real effort to stay connected, so Skype becomes really important. I want her to stay connected to her brother. When I knew I was coming to Chicago, I called my daughter. She said, “Doesn’t Oprah live there? Do I get to meet her?” Then she calls the next day. “Hey, I heard she’s moving.”
CF: Have you been back to Haiti?
J-CB: Last time was in 1998. I’m looking to reconnect. [Illinois state Sen.] Kwame Raoul [whose parents are Haitian] is helping me to reconnect. When my parents were alive there was more of a connection. I’m a fellow with the Aspen Institute, and we have to do a project worldwide. I’m thinking about Haiti. I want to give something back.
CF: Republicans running for the presidential nomination sometimes promise that, if elected, they will eliminate the Department of Education. What’s your take on that?
J-CB: That would be horrible. The United States is probably the only country where education is so fragmented. Fifty states each with their own department of education. When you look at successful countries vis-à-vis education—Korea, Finland, Singapore—there’s a centralized education. In America, the public likes local controlled schools. The Department of Education ensures consistency across the country, and that is sorely needed.
CF: Are you a friend of Arne Duncan?
J-CB: I’m a big fan of Arne’s. I need to understand the politics of the city and Arne’s been extremely helpful in that.
CF: Are you a supporter of the casino bill?
J-CB: If it’s going to bring money to the district, we have to take it. The way we fund schools is unfair—huge disparities and inequities. If it’s going to bring money into the city, call me.
CF: Are you a Democrat?
J-CB: I’m independent. I’m not a registered Republican or Democrat.
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