If Mr. Brizard goes

By  - 4/15/2011

The news this week that Jean-Claude Brizard is on a short list of candidates to lead Chicago Public Schools should not have come as a big surprise. But for those who support the effort to bring reform and accountability to the Rochester City School District, it ought to be a wakeup call.

If Rochester loses Mr. Brizard as superintendent of schools, it will be a severe blow-one likely to imperil the change so desperately needed.

The superintendent's arrival in Rochester a little more than three years ago was greeted with high hopes. It did not take long for him to become a lightning rod, however, because he was blunt about what must happen to end decades of abysmal student performance.

No longer could the district tolerate poorly performing schools. Nor could it continue to endorse the practice of basing teacher retention on seniority rather than performance. And principals needed to be empowered to make crucial decisions.

In short, failure-a graduation rate persistently below 50 percent cannot be described another way-must become unacceptable.

Some people view change as a threat. There's little doubt that leaders of the Rochester Teachers Association-and many members-feel this way. RTA president Adam Urbanski believes Mr. Brizard is the problem. As he told this newspaper recently, "the only choice ... would be for him to leave or for all the teachers to leave." He even described the superintendent as delusional.

The real delusion, of course, is the idea that Rochester schools can transform student performance by continuing down the road they have traveled for decades.

Mr. Brizard's performance has not been flawless. And though student achievement has begun to improve, a study showing only 5 percent of high school students leaving the district prepared for college or a career makes clear that the task remaining is enormous. Yet those who think Mr. Brizard is the leader this city's schools need should recognize the stakes.

With school districts in Chicago and elsewhere holding Mr. Brizard in high regard, Mr. Urbanski might get his wish. In that event, Rochester would be left with the RTA chief, his supporters-and the dashed hope of reform.

4/15/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail