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J.C. Brizard, a former DOE official, to head Chicago schools

Jean-Claude Brizard, the embattled superintendent of Rochester, N.Y., and a former New York City Department of Education official, will be Chicago’s next schools chief.

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel announced his superintendent pick at a press conference today, billing Brizard as a leader who is “not afraid of tough choices.” In three years as Rochester’s superintendent, Brizard alienated local leaders and the teachers union with his support for charter schools, tying teacher evaluations to student test scores, and closing low-performing schools.

Picking Brizard suggests that Emanuel could be preparing to tangle with Chicago’s teachers union, whose president, Karen Lewis, took an aggressive stance in her fights with Ron Huberman, the superintendent who resigned last year. The choice also signals yet again that administrators who cut their teeth under former New York City Chancellor Joel Klein remain in demand around the country.

Earlier this month, Klein told GothamSchools that Brizard was one of several New York City school officials, past and present, who were “being recruited in multiple venues right now” for big-city superintendencies. In addition to Chicago, other cities looking for leaders include Newark, Boston, Atlanta, and Providence, R.I. A current DOE deputy chancellor, John White, will become superintendent of New Orleans next month.

Brizard’s departure from Rochester is not surprising. In February, 95 percent of teachers participating in a vote held by the city’s teachers union expressed no confidence in his leadership. It was the first time the union had held a no-confidence vote. In recent weeks, it had become clear that Brizard had put himself on the market.

A graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy, Brizard left New York City in late 2007 after more than two decades in the city schools. He had been a teacher, principal of George Westinghouse High School, a regional superintendent, and executive director of high schools. But he had been shut out of top deputy positions after a major reorganization earlier in 2007.

Another former Klein deputy, Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso, had also been reported to be in the running for the Chicago job, although his name had fallen off the radar in recent weeks. Last year, Brizard was rumored to be a candidate for Newark’s superintendency.

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