Since last Monday’s official announcement that (former) RCSD Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard was resigning from his position here and accepting an offer from Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to become the next CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, suggestions abound concerning the background and personal make-up of his eventual replacement. I do have a few thoughts regarding the matter, particularly the prospect of naming an interim superintendent to man (or woman) the ship while the search for a permanent leader is conducted.
The Need For An Interim Superintendent
First but necessarily foremost, an interim boss should be designated. The main reason for this opinion is that I do not trust the current RCSD School Board members (majority of them) to exercise proper judgment in selecting a permanent successor. If it’s possible to delay the nomination of a lasting heir until after the fall elections, and the hopeful removal of a few of the term-limited board members, the better off will be the district and city residents. It is a lot to ask but given the fact that the current representation, generally speaking, demonstrates such blind devotion to the local business aristocracy, any communally reasoned assessment and decision is unlikely to occur.
Remember the adage about how when Kodak would sneeze, the entire Rochester area caught a cold? Well, the same now could be said about the University of Rochester, which is rapidly accumulating assets and continually expanding its local (and national) influence, So it should concern many education reformers that U of R President Joel Seligman, who has been a long-time champion of Brizard and his particular brand of reform, is apparently inserting himself into the succession discussion, either on his own accord and/or with encouragement from business ‘influentials.’ I can only imagine what kind of pressure the likes of Seligman and Rochester Business Alliance CEO Sandy Parker are exerting on the school board to implant an individual whose methods closely resemble Brizard’s.
How About Somebody Local?
Is it too much to ask that the next superintendent be someone who already has a connection to the city school district? The ideal candidate is an individual who is already a leader within the RCSD, with a proven record of community outreach, establishment of various local reform efforts, and who is thoroughly detached from corporate influences and unyieldingly supportive of a ground-up district transformation effort. Even on an interim basis, this particular job is daunting, so it would require a person who is uniquely qualified to navigate the political and social dynamics present in this community. Additionally, any and all superintendents, including the next one for Rochester, should have a classroom teaching background. That should really go without saying. However, in this current education climate, anything – and anyone – seems to be possible.
Two Possible Candidates?
I am not going to name any names here but do believe there are two individuals who represent the intrinsic qualities that the next RCSD Superintendent should possess. One of these persons has actually led the district for a short period of time. This same person is still very active in education reform efforts both locally and beyond, with years of experience leading both urban and suburban school districts, and who regularly defies conventional wisdom and seeks a more realistic approach to education reform.
The same can be said of the other individual I have in mind. This person is a current RCSD principal who made a newsworthy protest of Brizard’s proposal to implement a new school funding formula entitled Equitable Student Funding. It remains to be seen whether this specific measure will be instituted. But it has been this principal’s public excoriation of the administration’s unilateral manner in which it put forward the intended measure, and her subsequent action to conduct an unrestricted meeting to explain her building’ situation, that has raised numerous sets of eyebrows.
If it’s not these two people who are willing and available to lead the district, at least in the short term, then who? Whoever that person is, it should not require an unnecessarily exhaustive and ridiculous nationwide search to locate him or her.