The history of principal hiring in Chicago

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1917 To minimize patronage in hiring, the Illinois Legislature passed the Otis Bill establishing a four-year term for the superintendent and creating a Board of Examiners solely for Chicago. Under the new system, principal candidates had to pass both a two-day written exam, covering all academic subject areas, and an oral exam. Those who passed were listed in the order of their scores. The superintendent had to make appointments in rank order.

Late ’60s The written portion of the principals exam was shortened to one day, and the exam began to focus more on practical management and personal-relations skills. The State Legislature created local school improvement councils elected by parents. When a principal vacancy arose, this advisory body had the right to recommend three candidates from the rank-order list.

Early ’70s The Chicago Principals Association took the board to court, charging that some local school councils were overlooking candidates on the rank-order list for racial or other personal reasons. The association won the case, and all candidates then on the list were given principal jobs until the list was depleted. The School Board then abolished the rank-order system, permitting local school improvement councils to recommend anyone who had passed the principal exams. The superintendent typically appointed a council’s top choice.

1988 The State Legislature passed the Chicago School Reform Act, creating local school councils (LSCs) and giving them the sole authority to select principals. The law also barred all prerequisites for selection as principal, other than a state Type 75 certificate. Principals lost tenure; they are signed to four-year contracts instead. Subdistrict superintendents were required to conduct annual advisory evaluations of principals.

1995 A major revision of the Reform Act, sought by business leaders and Mayor Richard M. Daley, eliminated subdistrict superintendents and gave the chief executive officer the responsibility of evaluating principals. It also gave the CEO veto power over the renewal of principals’ contracts—some reform groups say this power was limited to certain circumstances, a position that board attorneys reject.

1996 At the bidding of CEO Paul Vallas, the Legislature removed the 1988 prohibition on board-imposed requirements for becoming and remaining a principal. That paved the way the extension of the board’s Chicago residency requirement to principals and for the experience and training requirements under discussion. It also confirmed the CEO’s veto power in contract renewal.