There’s a trifecta, Chicago Public Schools Chief Jean-Claude Brizard says, that leads to great schools – leadership, teachers and curriculum.

Brizard spoke with Austin Weekly News and Chicago Journal’s editorial boards last Thursday about his vision for creating those great schools.

Chief among them was establishing a longer school day, an initiative already begun in 13 CPS elementary schools. CPS plans to use the schools that have extended their day by 90 minutes as test runs to see what works before launching the extended school day plan district-wide.

But Brizard contends creating great schools and turning around underperforming ones lies with school leadership. He said principals must know what effective teaching is and should be given leeway to hire and fire those not meeting expectations.

 “Good principals understand, primarily, that their job is to recruit the best teachers in the world and develop them if they can and, at times, exit them if they shouldn’t be there.”

While there is a push to get good teachers, it is essential that schools have good principals. Brizard wants to establish a program that would train and groom that corps of good principals.

He believes principals should have a certain amount of autonomy in running their schools and creating curriculums, but that some aspects of the curriculum should be standardized. Too many variations in what is being taught affects ACT and standardized test scores, he said.

“Chemistry 101 at Payton is not Chemistry 101 at Hyde Park High School,” Brizard said. “The expectations are very different, and they shouldn’t be. Systemically, you want to have as much control about the expectation of students … and how you get there, that’s [the principal’s] business.”

Also on Brizard’s list to standardize is school security. Safety and security are currently “completely decentralized” from central office and that allows principals to hire their own security force, he said.

While some principals are doing a good job hiring security officers, Brizard says others are hiring people they know or even people straight off the streets. 

He said the force needs to be “professionalized” because of rumors “about school safety officers giving wings of building to gangs because they are part of the same gangs.”

“I’m one finger away from a disaster in the city, and I cannot afford that,” Brizard said. “But there is also a need to allow principals to allocate resources the way they see fit.”

Brizard’s overall goal is to get students college- or career-ready. CPS’s own data shows that only 7.9 percent of 11th-graders test college-ready while the high school graduation rate is 57 percent.

The CPS vocational training program stresses college readiness even though college may not be in some students’ future. Today’s vocational world, Brizard explained, has become more technical, requiring strong reading and math skills.

“Today’s auto technician is not your grandfather’s mechanic,” said Brizard who, once upon a time, was a vocational teacher. He noted that the field his students pursued, including carpentry, required algebra.

“I don’t expect every kid to go to college. I want every kid to have that choice. I don’t want to make that choice for them,” he said.