Jean-Claude Brizard’s political foes in Rochester, N.Y., have painted a false picture of him.
That’s the claim of the man who was mayor when Jean-Claude Brizard was hired to run Rochester’s public schools.
“Jean-Claude is not anti-teacher,” declared Robert Duffy, “He’s pro-child, pro-student, pro-parent.”
Democrat Duffy has been lieutenant governor of New York State since January, serving under Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Prior to that, Duffy was twice elected mayor of Rochester. He spoke to FOX Chicago News during a visit to Chicago.
Duffy recalled the day that Brizard came to the mayor’s office to explain his plans for Rochester’s schools.
“At the end of the meeting, everyone in the room suddenly began applauding. He was that impressive,” Duffy said.
“He is such a good person. I think the world of the man. This characterization of him as this blustering leader who steps over teachers is absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” Duffy said. “And I'm embarrassed that his associates in Rochester would do that.”
That perception stems, in part, from a vote of “no confidence” taken by the Rochester Teachers Association union.
Longtime union President Adam Urbanski fought Brizard’s efforts to offer merit pay for teachers.
Brizard said it was one way to “change the culture” of a school system that now ranks at or near the bottom in almost every category among urban systems in New York State.
For all of his visionary plans, though, Brizard’s critics note that statistics show little, if any improvement, during Brizard’s 3.5 year tenure in Rochester. Duffy said he and others are disappointed that Brizard will not be staying longer to carry out his plans.
Reflecting on Brizard’s stormy tenure, Duffy said there was one thing Brizard could have done to strengthen his standing politically. Duffy said Brizard should have spent more time visiting local schools, talking to teachers, parents and principals in their own neighborhoods.
Longtime Chicago schools watchdog Linda Lenz, of CATALYST Chicago, said Brizard and his patron, Mayor-Elect Emanuel, should move quickly to explain their plans for Chicago schools.
Lenz said it’s all the more important given the bad budget news they will have to deliver by the time school begins next fall. The system faces a budget shortfall of up to $800 million, likely forcing a big round of school closings and job cuts.
Lenz said Brizard will, indeed, need to be tough. But he also needs to win the cooperation of teachers and principals and to bolster their morale.
“He’s talking about how he's making the tough decisions. That only goes so far,” Lenz said.