With Tim Cawley recently leaving his high-ranking Chicago Public Schools central office position, I started to wonder whether there were any survivors left from the original dream team Mayor Emanuel assembled to save public education.
That would be the merry band of privatizers, business leaders, and charter school supporters the mayor brought in from all over the country shortly after he was elected in 2011.
I can answer this question thanks to an article I clipped out of the Sun-Times and pasted in a scrapbook on April 19, 2011, the day after Emanuel, not yet sworn in as mayor, unveiled his school appointees.
(I’ve been stuffing scrapbooks with newspaper clippings since I was nine years old, enamored with Sandy Koufax and other heroes of the 1965 World Series. You never know when this stuff will come in handy.)
Before I take you through the list, though, let me remind you that the mayor’s dream team didn’t actually save our public schools.
Alas, they—and the people who replaced them—have overseen, among other things, a teacher strike, a hunger strike, a book banning, several horrendous borrowing deals, and a multibillion-dollar deficit resulting in the imminent threat of 5,000 teacher layoffs unless the teachers accept a 7 percent pay cut.
Good thing we don’t have an elected school board—eh, Chicago?
Of course, in fairness to Emanuel’s appointees, most were ill prepared for their task. None of his top three recruits lived in Chicago. The others had never run a public school system.
Basically, Mayor Emanuel turned the all-important task of charting our children’s educational future to people who knew next to nothing about the job.
But back to that article in my scrapbook, which includes head shots and snappy bios of the mayor’s seven key school appointees and hires.
Heading the list is Jean-Claude Brizard, brought in by the mayor from Rochester, New York, to be the chief executive officer.
Sixteen months later, Brizard was gone, forced out by the mayor after the teachers’ strike of 2012. Obviously, someone had to take the fall for the strike, and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be Emanuel.
The article also mentions chief education officer Noemi Donoso, whom Emanuel recruited from Denver in part because, in its words, “she fills out any in-the-trenches charter and turnaround experience that Brizard lacks.”
Donoso didn’t last a year—she was the first of this bunch to leave, in May 2012. At least we can’t blame the teachers’ strike on her.
In her place, Mayor Emanuel hired Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who came from Detroit by way of Cleveland. I will refrain from making any wisecracks about either city.
Within a few months Byrd-Bennett was promoted to replace Brizard as CEO, only to be ushered out last April with news that the FBI was investigating a no-bid $20.5 million principal-training contract the Board of Education had awarded to a company Byrd-Bennett once worked for.
To replace Byrd-Bennett, in July Emanuel hired his chief of staff Forrest Claypool, who has no previous education experience.
Having surveyed the wreckage of his educational policies, the mayor apparently concluded that he needed to hire executives with even less experience running public schools.
But back to the dream team. Emanuel hired Elizabeth Swanson as the “mayoral deputy chief of staff for education.” Swanson lasted until 2014, when she left to take a job with the Joyce Foundation.
Before going to work for Emanuel, Swanson was “executive director of the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation, providing her a working knowledge of the philanthropic community,” according to the article.
But just in case her knowledge wasn’t enough, the mayor also appointed Penny Pritzker to the school board as part of the original team. She’s the cofounder of the aforementioned foundation. Obviously, you can’t have enough Pritzker connections in one administration.
According to the cheat sheet, Pritzker is “a huge charter supporter” and “a contributor to Stand for Children, which led an Emanuel-backed school reform bill that trims teacher union power.”
I will also refrain from making any wisecracks about gazillionaires who support charter schools that pay their teachers crappy wages.
Pritzker stayed on the board until March 2013, when she left to become President Obama’s secretary of commerce.
She was replaced by investment banker Deborah Quazzo, whose tenure was marked by the revelation that five companies she had invested in received about $3.8 million in CPS contracts during her time on the board. The mayor accepted her resignation—and that of three other board members—in June.
The article also features former banker David Vitale, named by Emanuel as school board president. Vitale helped negotiate some of the convoluted swaps that have left CPS owing hundreds of millions of dollars in fees to various borrowers.
You know, Mr. Mayor, you might want to consider at least a temporary moratorium on appointing any more bankers to the board.
Finally, there’s Cawley, who stepped down last week from his position as chief operating officer.
Cawley is best known for two things. He strongly advocated that the board award a $364 million janitorial contract to Aramark. Principals, parents, and teachers say the schools have never been filthier.
He’s also known for living in Winnetka. Thus he needed the board to waive the requirement that CPS employees reside in Chicago.
Claypool replaced Cawley with Ronald DeNard, who also needed a residency waiver, as he lives in Flossmoor. So I guess you can say Cawley’s legacy lives.
That leaves the mayor with a grand total of one survivor from his original dream team: board vice president Jesse Ruiz.
Ruiz served as interim CEO between the time Byrd-Bennett resigned and Claypool got hired. I’m happy to report that during Ruiz’s three-month reign there were no teachers’ strikes, hunger strikes, book bans, or central office indictments.
Think of it as the golden age of education in Mayor Emanuel’s Chicago. v