Community leaders eye RCSD’s future without Brizard

ROCHESTER — A former school board member has been selected as interim superintendent for the Rochester City School District as the board continues its work to find a replacement for Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard who resigned last month.

Bolgen Vargas, a school counselor in the Greece Central School district, was named the interim superintendent during a press conference May 11. He previously served eight years on the school board, including four as board president, noted José Cruz, currently the board’s vice president.

"He has a positive history with district," added Cruz in an e-mail. "He has a doctorate in education, has been an educator for over 20 years and he has established community ties so he doesn’t have to waste time developing relationships." 

Brizard, who was to report in as superintendent of Chicago public schools by May 14 and was to start his new job on May 16, said he supported Vargas’ appointment. According to information from district officials, Vargas’ dissertation, "Educational Success in the Face of Adversity as Measured by High School Graduation," was based on his analysis of the district’s high school graduating class of 2009 and compared the success and failure rates of students facing the same risk factors. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in international studies and a master’s degree in school counseling from the State University of New York at Brockport.

"He is committed to helping young people get the most out of their education and realize their potential," Brizard said in a statement. "He is extremely smart and intimately familiar with the Rochester City School District, our strengths and the challenges facing our students and staff. We worked together very recently as part of his research into the conditions surrounding students who drop out of high school. I am sure this will continue to be an area of focus for him in his role as interim superintendent."

During the Latino Education Summit April 26 at Nazareth College, Latino community leaders expressed concern about who will replace Brizard permanently, but an advocate for improving academic achievement for Latino students noted that work will continue no matter who fills the position.

During the summit, Brizard also said that improving graduation rates and decreasing drop-out rates for Latino students in Rochester is too important not to go on.

"It’s not about me," he said. "It’s about the work. It’s about committed people."

The Rochester Board of Education also has shown its support of Latino students by contracting with urban-education experts from New York University to work with it and district staff, and Brizard said his resignation will not have an impact on that.

But his departure is a "tremendous loss" to the entire community, noted Vargas, a native of the Dominican Republic who participated in the summit at Nazareth.

"He’s extremely committed to each child," he said of Brizard. "I have trust and confidence in the school board that they will continue the initiatives they have in place."

Brizard, however, was the first superintendent that brought to light the underachievement of Latino students, remarked Hilda Rosario Escher, Ibero-American Action League’s executive director and chief executive officer.

"My concern is, will the next superintendent continue the work we have started?’ " she said. "We are going to continue the work from the community. We will continue fighting and advocating for our students. But we have to have the next superintendent buy in (as well)."

Chicago’s Mayor-elect Rahm Emanual announced Brizard’s appointment to lead that city’s public schools during a press conference April 18, according to media reports. Chicago is the third-largest school district in the country. During an April 20 press conference at the school district’s central office Brizard spoke about his decision and the work that has been done during his three years in Rochester.

"There is incredible capacity and talent in our district office and in our schools," he said during the conference, which may be viewed at www.ustream.tv/recorded/14155968. "There is unwavering commitment by a huge portion of this community to stay child-focused and make the difficult decisions that will produce sustainable change for our children."

In a letter to Malik Evans, president of the city’s Board of Education, Brizard stated that the decision was a difficult one and he is proud of what the district has been able to accomplish during his tenure, such as expanding school options for students and increases in student achievement.

"It has been my honor and privilege to serve the children and families of Rochester for nearly three and a half years," Brizard wrote. "Most importantly, I thank the students of Rochester for demonstrating their wealth of talents and skills to all of us. Each is indeed a work of art destined to become a masterpiece."

In a statement, Evans said that the community must now move forward. The school board met to talk about his replacement during a special executive session April 27, according to Melisza Campos, school board member.

"Our committed leadership, along with that of the district’s staff, will allow us to continue our successes and move ahead as a strong, cohesive team to deliver quality programs and services for our students," Evans added.

Brizard began as Rochester superintendent in January 2008. A native of Haiti and the son of teachers, Brizard had previously worked as a regional superintendent overseeing a population of more than 100,000 students in New York City. The Rochester school district serves more than 32,000 students from prekindergarten to 12th grade.

The Rochester Board of Education had signed a three-year renewal of Brizard’s contract last fall with an annual salary of $235,000, according to http://rcsdk12.org/rcsd/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=285890&C=55255. The current Chicago superintendent earns $230,000 annually.

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