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CPS Addresses Principal Vacancies, Faces Skepticism

Hiring new, effective principals is a pressing problem for Local School Councils across the city. Currently, there are 95 principal vacancies throughout CPS’s 670 neighborhood schools, and there are typically about 100 vacancies each school year, said Steve Gering, CPS chief of leadership development.

English: Chicago Public Schools headquarters, ...
CPS Headquarters, Image via Wikipedia

Responding to the need for more effective principals, CPS created the Chicago Leadership Collaborative to train and recruit more qualified, experienced candidates, said Gering, who heads the Chicago Leadership Collaborative.

CPS turned its attention to principal selection and retention in August when the Mayor’s Office announced the creation of the Chicago Leadership Collaborative.

“You get the best schools when you get the best principals,” said Gering, presenting details of the program at a November 30 Board of Education meeting.

Around 89 percent of CPS’s principal candidacy pool is made up of current CPS staff, including assistant principals, transferring principals, and other administrators.

Just 10 percent come from principal internship programs the Chicago Leadership Collaborative hopes to expand, and only 1 percent of principal candidates come from outside the city, said Gering.

At the Board Meeting, Gering said the new principal training plan would increase the number of new principals trained in yearlong internship programs from 32 to 100 by February 2013. More experienced principals will be added to the pool by “poaching” other urban school districts around the country, said Gering.

Local School Councils (LSC’s) depend on having a high-quality pool of applicants, since they must select principals from CPS’s candidacy pool, according to Illinois law. LSC’s have been tasked with principal selection and evaluation at CPS neighborhood schools since the Illinois Education Reform Act passed in 1988.

But LSC’s weren’t always responsible for selecting principals.

“If you go far enough back,” said Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, “Being a principal was a political job. You could buy a principalship then or use clout to get in.”

“Then, for a while, [principals] were selected by the school board,” she said.

The current LSC-based selection process came out of the reform idea that parents have the most invested in their child’s education, so they should be an important part of the principal selection process, said Berry.

“LSC selection provides the best possible start for a principal,” said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education.  “He or she is chosen by the direct representatives of community with which the principal will be working.”

But a 1996 amendment to the 1988 Illinois Education Reform Act made it clear that the mayor-appointed Chicago Board of Education could overrule LSC’s and remove failing principals, placing their own interim principal in the school until adequate improvement is made.

While Gering said he was hopeful the Chicago Leadership Collaborative could deliver better-performing principals, Woestehoff and Berry are skeptical.

Woestehoff said the Chicago Leadership Collaborative is likely one more in a long line of ineffective administrative reforms.

“Unfortunately, historically, CPS administrators have seen their role as interfering and trying to skew the process towards a predetermined candidate or away from an LSC’s choice rather than provide real help,” said Woestehoff.

And Berry said she feels disappointed that the Chicago Leadership Collaborative had not consulted her organization earlier on in the process.

“Most of the other administrations have been very eager to hear the perspective of Chicago principals present and retired,” said Berry.

Berry said she would have told the Chicago Leadership Collaborative they shouldn’t put too much faith in the success of yearlong internship programs, since the results of such programs are too dependent on the individual participant.

The more successful graduates are the individuals whose internship location and socio-economic make up was similar to the school they wound up serving, said Berry.

“Everybody doesn’t need help in the same ways,” said Berry. “Some people who finished the program got out and were successful, some got out there and just couldn’t handle it.”

“What is really needed,” said Woestehoff, “is better support for LSC’s as they make their decision.”

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