Mazany offers up a parting ed plan for Brizard

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Under former CEO Ron Huberman, the mantra was:  Move as much work as possible “closer to the schools.” The result was that the district’s 30 area offices ballooned while central offices and schools had their staffs slashed.

Under former CEO Ron Huberman, the mantra was:  Move as much work as possible “closer to the schools.” The result was that the district’s 30 area offices ballooned while central offices and schools had their staffs slashed.

These offices, including the office of turnaround, alternative and autonomous schools, grew by 144 staff members and $12 million from 2009 to the fall of 2010, according to a Catalyst analysis of employee rosters.

What’s more, they grew in different directions. When Mazany became interim CEO in December, he found each area office operating as a little fiefdom, pushing its own curriculum and sending out sometimes conflicting  messages to principals.

Mazany says that area offices would be one of the first places he would make cuts to help close a projected $700  million revenue shortfall for the next school year. The areas offices should go back to supporting principals, while standards and instructional directions would return to central office, he said. “The district needs to have a new center of gravity.” 

Mazany is expected to return to his job as president of The Chicago Community Trust shortly after Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel is sworn into office on May 16. Emanuel has introduced Rochester (N.Y.) Supt. Jean-Claude Brizard has his choice for CEO.

Mazany made his comments about the budget at a press briefing on the education plan his office developed as a guide for the new CEO. Some 20 people worked on the plan, and another 44, including business people, researchers and professors, reviewed it. Some were heavy-hitters who are tied to Emanuel, such as University of Chicago Urban Education Institute Director Tim Knowles and Beth Swanson, who will serve as Emanuel’s chief of staff for education.

The new CEO and board of education have about three months to develop a budget for the coming year—a difficult task considering the deficit. 

Other savings

Besides trimming area offices, Mazany said he would reduce the number of assessments students take, saving some additional money. He said that a survey found that some students take a benchmark test three times a year, a diagnostic every five weeks and the annual ISAT. “A lot of time is being consumed and focused on these tests,” he said.

 Mazany said that two places where he would invest more dollars are developing better principals and expanding early childhood education.

More a vision than a work plan, Mazany’s document outlines  how the school system should be shaped to produce students ready to compete in a global economy.

Emanuel said at the press conference announcing Brizard that he and Brizard would review Mazany’s education plan and that he was grateful that Mazany tried to move the school system forward. “Improving the education system is not something that can wait,” Emanuel said.

Mazany, Emanuel diverge

But the path that Mazany’s education plan recommends diverges from Emanuel’s education platform in some significant respects. For one, it calls on the district to build a network of great neighborhood schools.

“It is difficult for kids and parents to take their children to a school in a different neighborhood,” Mazany said. “In elementary at least, your home school should be your best choice.”

Emanuel and Brizard are emphasizing charter schools, most of which choose students through a city-wide lottery. As enrollment in charter schools has grown, neighborhood elementary schools have lost students, making them vulnerable to being shut down.

Mazany is not an opponent of charter schools. In fact, he serves on the board of directors of New Schools for Chicago, formerly the Renaissance Schools Fund, an organization created to raise money for new schools, most of which are charters. Mazany noted that the focus of New Schools for Chicago will be on proven, quality charter schools. 

While both the Mazany plan and Emanuel agree on the central importance of good teachers, they offer different recommendations.

Mazany defines great teachers as those with experience and deep content knowledge. His plan proposes career ladders to keep good teachers in the classroom.

Emanuel favors performance pay as a key way to promote quality.

Emanuel’s commitment to charter schools suggests he does not place as much stock in experience . Charter schools are notorious for having high teacher turnover and teachers with little experience. In an analysis of 2010 teacher service records, Catalyst Chicago found that 80 percent of charter school teachers had fewer than five years of experience.

The Mazany plan makes no mention of performance management or data-driven instruction, other reforms favored by Emanuel.

Mazany acknowledged that the plan does not delve into the nitty-gritty.  He nodded at the suggestion that it is far-fetched to talk about creating “powerful and creative thinkers” when children come to school worried about safety and arrive in high school barely literate.

But Mazany said that when he walked in, the school system was in such disrepair that it needed to be reminded of its goals and mission. He reiterated what he has been saying all along: There are no quick fixes or single solutions.