Board learns lesson from Northside’s hiring

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Even before Northside College Preparatory Academy opened its doors this August, it had taught school officials an important lesson about starting a magnet school: Take your time in recruiting a faculty.

Northside Principal James “Jay” Lally, former principal of St. Ignatius College Prep High School, was hired a year before the flagship school opened, which gave him several months to search for and hire an assistant principal and department heads, who then helped select the rest of the teaching staff.

Lally also had time to pitch his school in person and, thereby, defuse the negative impression sometimes held of the Chicago Public Schools. For example, he visited many Chicago-area Catholic schools to entice prospective teaching candidates.

“The way a school should be opened is the way we opened Northside, and that’s what we’ll do henceforth,” says Blondean Davis, CPS schools and regions chief. “That’s the way you should open a high school, period. Any other way does not result in your having the kind of quality that you need.”

The school received a total of 673 faculty applicants—310 were from inside CPS, 137 from other Chicago area schools and 206 from everywhere else, including two Americans who were teaching in Belgium and saw a Northside ad in the online edition of Education Week. The two flew in for interviews but were not hired.

“We did have the advantage of time,” Lally acknowledges. “You need that time to get the message out.”

In the end, Lally hired 22 teachers from inside CPS, five from other Chicago area schools, five recent college graduates and three from points beyond.

Not good enough?

While some CPS teachers have complained about Northside recruiting outside CPS—”like we aren’t good enough,” said one—Lally and other principals of the system’s new college prep schools say they don’t want to pull too many teachers away from other schools in the system and especially from any single school in the system.

“The college prep principals knew this issue would come up, and we realized that our colleagues at other schools also have a job to do. We wanted to be respectful of that,” says Linda Layne, principal of Southside College Prep High School, which opened two years ago on the site of the former Mendel/St. Martin de Porres Catholic High School.

Layne says she has told several CPS applicants she could not hire them because the school already had taken teachers from their schools. “I told them it was no reflection on their skills and suggested they reapply in a year or two as the school and the programs expand,” she says. Layne expects her teaching staff, which now numbers 23, at least to double within three years as capital improvements are completed on the expansive Roseland campus.

In the past two years, only one of the six new teachers Layne has hired came from inside CPS. One was from De LaSalle High in the city and one from Morton East High in the northern suburbs. The others were recent graduates of the University of Illinois at Chicago and at Urbana-Champaign.

Initially, though, Layne didn’t have the luxury of looking. With only a little over a month to open Southside in Mendel’s place, she had to scramble and wound up taking “several” teachers from one other Chicago public school, Layne concedes. That first year, all 17 teachers came from within the CPS.

When Cynthia Barron was hired as principal of Jones Magnet High School last summer, she also faced a dilemma. The board was converting the South Loop school from a well-regarded vocational school for juniors and seniors seeking office jobs to a four-year college prep school, and the old staff had been forced to reapply for their jobs. A transition coordinator sent by central office declined to hire some Jones veterans but brought in eight teachers from outside Jones, according to Barron. The principal says that by the time she was hired in July 1998, “Staffing was pretty much determined.”

Last school year, Barron oversaw two schools in one, the final senior class of the old Jones Commercial and the first freshman class of Jones Magnet. Knowing the academic high school would expand, Barron says she immediately began to reinterview Jones teachers who had not been asked to stay during the transition process.

She says she then made a point of filling new college-prep positions from among those teachers, and all but four were rehired.

“I felt uncomfortable about … who was selected and who was not selected,” Barron says. “So, when I realized I could do some projections, I felt it was important to take another look at those teachers not selected. I also did that because trust is a huge issue here. Any time you have transitions, no matter where, a certain amount of distrust builds up, and I felt it was important to come in, prove myself and work with people here.”

Since the summer of 1998, Barron has hired seven teachers from outside the CPS—three from Chicago-area parochial schools and four from suburban schools. She stresses they were hired as a result of programmatic need, not to fill vacancies created by a transitional purge. Barron acknowledges that she got three teachers from one Chicago public school after one new hire sold two close colleagues on the school.

“When I do an administrative transfer and it’s more than one teacher from one school, I don’t feel too good about it,” she says. “It usually happens because one person comes in and then talks to friends and colleagues. That’s what happens.

Hands off

“I don’t think we’re robbing other schools,” she adds. “I’ve had people leave me. One teacher left for Whitney Young, and I don’t feel that Whitney Young is stealing from me.” Teachers can’t be stopped from moving any more than birds can be stopped from migrating, Barron adds. “I’ve done it; other people do it. They do it in the business world every day,” she says. “The difference is that we have kids involved, so it’s a more sensitive issue.”

Barron says that before hiring a teacher from another Chicago public school, she calls that school’s principal, giving him or her an opportunity to exert some influence. “You talk with them and are up front with them. You say, `What do you want to do here? This person wants to come to my school?'”

Lally says that he or Assistant Principal Alan Mather talked with the principal at every school from which he wanted to hire a teacher. “Most have had the attitude that they understand it’s a unique opportunity for valuable teachers,” he says. But he concedes that one remains somewhat angry months after staff members left to take jobs at Northside.

Lally understands the frustration. “As a principal, you’re always trying to grow a faculty, and it takes time. It can be frustrating to lose valuable members of your staff.”

Transition at Lindblom

Like Jones last year, Lindblom this year temporarily consists of two schools in one, the final three classes of Lindblom Technical High School and the freshman class of Lindblom College Prep High School. Unlike Jones, the school is not being restaffed immediately.

“The staff will eventually turn over,” says Schools and Regions Chief Davis. “As the program builds, you will see staff reinterviewed and changes being made.”

Four Lindblom veterans already have left, says JoAnn Wooden Roberts, who recently was installed as interim principal at Lindblom following a year as a troubleshooter from central office. One got a job at Northside, another went to Mexico, one “was a lousy teacher and knew it,” and the fourth “knew it was time” as a result of increased monitoring and accountability at the school, she reports.

To fill those vacancies, Lindblom administrators went to job fairs and universities. A new social studies teacher was recruited at a job fair conducted by the DePaul University School of Education to help place recent master’s degree recipients. Another teacher was recruited from the Art Institute of Chicago. “This was a staff person there, and we stole him,” Roberts says with glee. Another was a recent graduate of Northeastern Illinois University, and the fourth was a CPS teacher who transferred.

At one time, Lindblom was viewed as the South Side equivalent of the Northside’s Lane Technical High School. At least this decade, though, it has operated at a much lower level. “When I came in 1998, the reading scores were 31.8 percent [at or above national norms] and math was at 37.7, and the scores were going down,” says Roberts. “This was not a college prep high school when I came here, even though the school had the history of being Lindblom. The luster was tarnished.”

The most recent principal, Cheryl Rutherford, has been transferred to central office; she declined repeated Catalyst requests for an interview.

King High School, which has been on probation for the past three years, also is being converted to a college prep school.

“We know we’ll have to roll out a big recruiting effort soon,” says Interim Principal Pamela Dyson, who was brought in a year ago, after the first probation principal left. “Recruitment by the board has gotten much more aggressive. It’s easier now, and people are getting more sophisticated about it. By the time we run advertisements, we’ll have a team experienced in interviewing, because you have to know what you’re looking for.”

Dyson, who helped recruit the original staff of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, says current teachers have not been asked to reapply for positions, but she expects that to happen as the school changes.

King did not enroll a freshman class this year. To accommodate King’s conversion, nearby Dyett Middle expanded to include 9th grade this fall. The school hired four teachers to accommodate about 90 students who enrolled.

Even though principals at the new college prep schools are trying to limit their take from any one Chicago public school, their colleagues elsewhere in the system are bound to feel the pinch.

Foreman High School Principal John Garvey is philosophical about his loss to Northside: his math department chair and another math teacher.

“It was all done aboveboard, and I had no problem with it,” he says. “I did lose two veteran teachers, and it obviously took some time to replace them, but I was able to replace them with people I’m satisfied with and who can do the job.” Both of his new math teachers came from within CPS.

“Math is a tough one,” Garvey acknowledges. Math teachers are in short supply everywhere, and Chicago’s college prep schools will be hiring proportionately more of them because they are requiring four years of math rather than the three required of all students by the School Board.

Garvey agrees with Lally and Barron that good principals encourage teachers to look for new positions that will fulfill them and elevate their skills.

‘Hate to lose teachers’

“You can’t stand in the way of teachers, particularly young teachers given an opportunity, and I’ve never done that,” Garvey says. “If someone wants to try something, I think they should. I hate to lose teachers, of course, because you teach them a lot about teaching, but I know that [the teachers I lost] are going to be teaching kids in Chicago for a long time to come, and they’re going to do a good job.”

“I don’t know what good it would do to have the same faculty for 20 years anyway,” he adds.

As Garvey sees it, magnet schools are a “necessary evil” for any school system trying to hold onto the middle class. He acknowledges that some CPS watchdogs believe that without magnet schools, neighborhood schools would improve, but he asks how long that would take. “You might lose a generation before they do improve,” he says. “Magnet schools are a quick fix for the flight of the middle class, black and white.”

Garvey is troubled, though, that principals of non-magnet schools sometimes are seen as inferior because their test scores are lower.

Layne says she doesn’t believe the college prep schools are getting the “cream of the [teaching] crop” because there are “thousands of excellent teachers across the city at all our schools.”

Barron says the goal should be to get good teachers for every school. “After all, the system is only as good as its weakest school, and nobody wants to see another school become weak,” she says.

In her view, schools on probation “need the best teachers in the system. And it’s up to the principal to get out there and be a motivator and leader in finding those teachers. When you do that, you’re really selling prospective candidates on your leadership and vision.”