Choosing Chicago’s next Schools CEO: Yvonne Brandon, Donald Feinstein

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Catalyst Chicago is asking readers to submit names of
candidates they believe would be a good pick to run the Chicago Public
Schools. In the coming weeks, we’ll post short profiles of these
candidates, and others who might be in the running. We’re inviting
other readers to share their views in our “Comments” section below.

Catalyst Chicago is asking readers to submit names of
candidates they believe would be a good pick to run the Chicago Public
Schools. In the coming weeks, we’ll post short profiles of these
candidates, and others who might be in the running. We’re inviting
other readers to share their views in our “Comments” section below.

 


Yvonne BrandonYvonne Brandon, superintendent, Richmond, Va., public schools

Experience: Brandon climbed the educational ladder in the Richard (VA) public schools, rising from teacher to assistant principal to superintendent, in 2009. The district serves 23,000 students in 47 schools. Previously she served as interim superintendent, a deputy superintendent and an associate superintendent. As associate superintendent, she was responsible for K-12 core academics, career and technical education, computer-based education, health and physical education, music, arts, humanities, Title 1, Head Start, pre-school, media services, testing, research and evaluation, adult education, special education and professional development.  She also was a middle school principal and assistant principal and director of instruction.

Brandon began her career as a middle school math teacher. She also taught high school science and served as a guidance counselor. Brandon has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., a master’s of education in guidance counseling from Virginia State University in Petersburg, Va., and a doctorate in education supervision and administration from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.  Brandon is a graduate of the 2006 class of The Broad Superintendents Academy.

Why she’s a good choice: Brandon has lots of leadership experience and spent several years in the classroom before becoming an administrator, a plus for many CPS teachers and parents. Her district won in October a grant from the Teacher Incentive Fund. CPS also has one of these grants. In announcing the awarding of the grant, Brandon said “The teacher remains the most critical and important element for a student achieving success in the classroom,” according to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

This year, she was honored by the YWCA of Richmond for instituting a comprehensive dropout prevention initiative. As an African-American woman, she would bring a face not seen at the top of CPS leadership for many years.

Why Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel might select her—or not: Brandon has spent her career largely in the same school district and one that is less than a 10th the size of Chicago’s. Some may view her outsider status with skepticism, and the time it would take her to settle in, could delay her from her tackling some of CPS’ most pressing problems. She comes from a district with only one public charter school, a fact that may play against her with a mayor who supports charter school expansion.


Donald Feinstein, executive director, Academy for Urban School Leadership

Experience: Veteran educator Donald Feinstein runs the Academy for Urban School Leadership. The organization turns around failing CPS schools by firing teachers and hiring new recruits (including graduates of its residency program) and instituting comprehensive school-wide changes. Before he became head of AUSL, Feinstein spent nearly two decades as principal of Dett Elementary and three years running AUSL’s Chicago Academy, one of the schools where the organization places its residents.

Why he’s a good choice:  Feinstein is already running a network of about 20 schools. He has years of experience working with failing schools, and with two key levers in school improvement: teacher training and teacher hiring.

“Don is an educator, an insider, and an innovator, all in one,” a longtime CPS observer points out. “(AUSL) still uses union teachers, they still work closely with the district… but they also are able to set their own schedule. They are able to innovate, (while working) much more closely with the district than charters do. That bodes really well for (Feinstein’s) ability to innovate within the district.”

Why Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel might select him—or not: Feinstein is closely associated with the turnaround process—a process in which most of a staff is replaced with new hires seen as bringing new energy into a failing school. Many veteran teachers have lost their jobs through this process and it has earned the ire of the teachers union.

But like fellow contender Tim Knowles, Feinstein is a member of Emanuel’s education advisory team. “My feeling is that Don’s playing on (the Tim Knowles) team, and not putting himself forward,” notes one survey respondent. But Feinstein has more CPS insider cred: “Don has stronger Chicago and district connections. He might get a warmer welcome, which would give him more leeway.” 


Previous profiles:Terry Mazany, interim CEO Chicago Public Schools; Robert Runcie, Chief Area Officer; Timothy Knowles, University of Chicago, Urban Education Institute; John White, New York City Schools Deputy Chancellor; Jose Torres, Elgin School Superintendent; Jo Anderson, Jr. , senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Andres Alonso, CEO, Baltimore City Schools

 

Who is your pick? Take our survey.