The many shortcomings of Galtian superhero school superintendents like Michelle Rhee are well-documented, but part of the reason that we get this kind of superintendent is that the “educational professional” alternative is no better. The experience of the city school district in Rochester is a great case in point.
Last week, we lost the latest in a list of mediocre scam artist superintendents in our urban school district. This one’s name is Jean-Claude Brizard, who ditched his contract to go run Chicago’s schools. Chicago apparently wasn’t fazed about the Rochester teacher’s union 95% vote of no confidence. As the top-notch local reporter Rachel Barnhart documents, Brizard’s tenure was full of bureaucratic waste, bullshitting about graduation rates, and no real improvement in the school district’s status.
The previous full-time superintendent before Brizard, Clifford Janey, went on to become Michelle Rhee’s predecessor. Janey recently quit his $280K/year post in Newark, a job he got after being fired in DC. Janey’s tenure at Rochester was similar to his experience in DC and Newark: a lot of empty promises about change as graduation rates fell.
I can’t really blame these grifters for running their cons in Rochester, Chicago, Newark and DC, because those places were on a quest for Superintendent Chocolate Jesus. Instead of addressing or even acknowledging the underlying reasons for school failure (structural poverty, no job opportunities, crime, drugs, teen pregancy and neglectful parenting), they put all their hopes into an out-of-town savior who can dream up unrealistic programs with the help of overpaid consultants, giving them asinine names like “Great Expectations”.
Rochester did have a decent interim superintendent for a year or two. His name is Bill Cala, and he came out of retirement after running a high quality suburban district to run the city schools for a couple of years. His speech about poverty, inequality and education contains a number of home truths that will almost certainly be glossed over by the next con artist with an Ed.D. who is hired to preside over our urban failure.