Administration adds hurdle for becoming a principal

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A year ago, the Reform Board approved new requirements to become a principal, including completion of a six-week internship. The administration is going one step farther, however, requiring that candidates get a passing grade from their mentor principals.

Informed of the requirement, Sheila Castillo, coordinator of the Chicago Association of Local School Councils, said: “I don’t remember there being a pass-fail component of the internship. As far as I know, nobody has seen any of this stuff yet.” Castillo served on the task force that wrote the principal hiring requirements.

“What if you and your mentor just don’t hit it off?” she continues. “How are they screening the mentors? How are they protecting the applicants? I don’t think this was thought through very clearly.”

Lula Ford, school leadership development officer, counters: “There was always an evaluation piece. That didn’t need to be stated in the policy.”

According to board materials, regional education officers will select principal mentors, using a checklist that includes management and interpersonal skills, as well as schoolwide test scores. Then they will match interns with principal mentors at schools near their homes.

Principal mentors will evaluate interns weekly using multiple-choice forms that address leadership, management, professional responsibilities and relationships. Items include: provides new ideas to resolve conflict, coordinates learning environment activities, timely completion of project or task and appropriate delegation of duties. The evaluation options are “satisfactory” and “needs work.”

This year, candidates hired by LSCs will have until July 31, a month’s grace period, to complete the internship, says Chief Education Officer Cozette Buckney. “This summer is going to be a little looser,” she explains. “We’re trying to play catch-up.”

Castillo wonders what will happen if a local school council’s choice for principal fails the internship.

Only 29 openings

With 198 principal contracts expiring this summer, the School Board and its outside partners have been scrambling for weeks to make it possible for more than 2,000 potential contenders to meet the board’s new hiring requirements.

As it turned out, though, only 29 positions remain open—15 because of retirements or resignations and 14 because of a local school council’s decision to conduct a search. LSCs at 169 of the schools decided to renew the contracts of the principals they had, for an 85 percent retention rate. All of these incumbents had received positive evaluations from their regional education officers, as required for contract renewal.

Meanwhile, principal training programs have been inundated. For example, when the Chicago branch of the Illinois Administrators Academy (IAA) e-mailed a course schedule to prospective principals in January, 1,483 applications were faxed back within three days. “Half the city was faxing them in at the same time,” says director Dolores Gonzalez.

Gonzalez says enrollment is on a first-come, first-served basis, which in some cases has come down to checking the time on a fax.

“What people failed to realize is that a lot of principals would get their contracts renewed,” she notes. “My feeling is that the rush will taper off as time goes by.”

Here’s what the rush looked like in mid-February:

Required coursework

Principal candidates must take 70 hours of coursework in specific areas, including staff evaluation and remediation plans. The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association agreed to offer the coursework for two groups of candidates: assistant principals and other administrators with state principal certification—about 100 have taken the courses or signed up—and principals who have been hired since the coursework requirement was approved a year ago.

Gonzalez’s agency is serving most other candidates. Twenty-three workshops have been scheduled from February through May; each accommodates 36 people comfortably, but all are overenrolled. Special December and June sessions are serving interim principals who want to become regular, contract principals.

Even with these expanded offerings, about 600 aspiring principals who want courses can’t get them through the Chicago IAA branch. Gonzalez says she has heard that some candidates are trying to meet the requirement through colleges or other IAA sites. These courses carry a fee, while Chicago’s do not, she notes.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez says, her agency must still provide state-mandated continuing education courses to 1,500 Chicago principals and administrators each year. “We almost have to have two sets of curricula,” she says.

IAA is funded through a state block grant to the Reform Board. Gonzalez says school officials have promised her “whatever you need.” Now, she says, she must figure out what she needs.

Credentials check

The Principal Review Board (PRB), housed at Roosevelt University, performs the final check on candidates’ credentials. Applicants pay $50; results take four to six weeks.

Al Bennett, one of the PRB’s two consultants, says 217 candidates have submitted their credentials so far; most, he says, are still missing some coursework.

He adds that determining whether applicants’ courses meet the board’s requirements is the most complicated aspect of the job. “The alignment of them with what the state and the city have agreed upon is fairly challenging,” he says.

Bennett says he and fellow consultant Frank Gardner had planned a steering committee meeting in late February to iron out more specific criteria for accepting course credits. Representatives from the board, the principals association and the Chicago Association of Local School Councils had been invited.

Getting the word out

In October, 2,800 potential principals—teachers and administrators holding state administrative certificates—got a board mailing describing the PRB and the process for meeting requirements. The mailing also included material on the non-profit Partnership to Educate the Next Century’s Urban Leaders (PENCUL), which provides in-depth skills assessments to principal candidates who want them and principal selection training to LSCs that want it. Cozette Buckney and her deputy, Carlos Azcoitia, sit on PENCUL’s management committee.

The mailing specified repeatedly that PRB certification, at $50, is required for aspiring principals, while a skills assessment by PENCUL, at $150, is not. But this wasn’t enough to prevent confusion.

Jerlyn Maloy, assistant principal at Carnegie Elementary, says she initially thought PENCUL and the PRB were two competing review boards. She had to call central office to get it straight. An assistant principal from a Southwest Side school adds she had assumed from the mailing that the PENCUL assessment was mandatory.

“It would have been nice if they’d had an inservice or a meeting to explain this to us,” Maloy says. “If you had any particular questions at the time, there was really no one to answer them.”

Principal assessment center

PENCUL conducted the first round of assessments in December and January, attracting 95 candidates. Project manager Katie Kelly says PENCUL plans to offer another session to 100 candidates beginning in mid-March. She adds that eventually, assessments will be done only of candidates who have met all board requirements.

Principal candidate database

Kelly says PENCUL’s principal candidate database currently has about 35 names, some assessment center participants and some out-of-town candidates recruited and interviewed by a search firm. The information available for each candidate includes work history, academic credentials, assessment center results where applicable, references and experience with specific programs, such as International Baccalaureate or middle school.

Information on accessing the database was recently mailed to local school councils choosing principals. Kelly says LSCs may request all the names or just those that meet certain criteria. Initially, local school councils receive one-page resume summaries. Then, full reports, typically 10 pages, can be provided to them. Kelly says the goal is to post the database on the World Wide Web, but that that move is at least a year away.

LSC training and assistance

Kelly says 12 LSCs have decided to use PENCUL’s services; she expects more to sign on in the coming weeks, following PENCUL’s appearance at three principal selection workshops in mid-February arranged by the LSC Summit. PENCUL has enlisted the help of 12 consultants to help LSCs gather a pool of principal candidates, screen resumes and conduct interviews.