LSC role important in principal selection

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The February Catalyst article “Principal training program scores average in placements” raised a number of important issues, but only provided a partial view of the role that local school councils play in principal selection. LSCs have many responsibilities, but none so important as the authority to evaluate and select principals. The value of this role has been demonstrated by research and 13 years of experience.

We were disappointed the article did not discuss why LSCs have this responsibility, or solicit more LSC perspectives on the challenges of principal leadership. Too often, the relationship between LSCs and principals is negatively stereotyped as “political” without seriously examining the reasons the legislature gave LSCs this authority in the first place.

LSCs are about accountability. LSC principal selection has played a major role in diversifying the principal corps, enlivening schools with new leaders and making sure that schools connect to communities. In fact, community leaders in New York City are pushing for a similar model in their reform efforts. Overall, the LSC-principal-teacher partnership can and does work.

Catalyst did a good job describing the understandable frustrations of candidates who have not yet achieved their goals. It is true that some LSC members may see things differently than their principal. Yet those differences can be valuable assets when applied constructively to the dialogue about school improvement, which should be the foundation of any principal selection process.

Former CEO Paul Vallas’ unsuccessful 1999 attempt to strip councils of principal selection authority established a clear reality—in Chicago, elected LSCs choose the principal. The big question is whether we are adequately supporting our LSCs to be successful in their duties. This should be a key aspect of any school leadership story.

We have come a long way since 1999. The current CPS administration has helped by being more open to collaboration with LSCs and their supporters. The recent Human Capital Initiative exemplifies the potential of this approach

Initially, the conversation focused only on principals and teachers. When advocates made the case that LSCs are a key part of the leadership equation, the administration responded by inviting veteran LSC members and supporters to join a committee to support LSC principal selection. This helped win administration support for the EXCEL and PENCUL programs, which provide independent assistance on the principal evaluation and selection processes.

Recognizing the need to do more, the Human Capital Initiative also sparked the creation of a new “LSC Roundtable” to engage the LSC community in policy development and problem solving.

LSC support groups, CPS and principal training organizations (including Leadership Academy and Urban Network for Chicago and New Leaders for New Schools) have also increased their collaboration on professional development, conflict resolution and even held a mixer to connect would-be principals to LSCs. These are extremely important developments.

Clearly, more needs to be done. Studies show that the city’s most effective schools are those where principals, teachers and LSCs understand each other’s roles and work together to meet high expectations. Yet many leaders have yet to master that worthwhile challenge. Collaborative training is a good first step, but LSCs cannot be a junior partner to this process. We need well-supported, elected LSCs in each and every Chicago school. To achieve this, we need to create an adequately funded LSC Leadership Institute to work with the principal and teacher professional development community to make the partnership between principals, teachers, LSCs and the broader community thrive.

There are 600 Chicago public schools. In a system this big, it is unrealistic to believe that any selection process will work flawlessly every time. But overall, LSC principal selection has proven its value. Think about it: Are principal candidates who cannot convince parents, teachers and community members to hire them likely to succeed in mobilizing the larger community of parents, teachers and neighbors to help a school succeed?

All school leaders must work together effectively—and be accountable if they don’t. The interplay of different kinds of leadership is an important aspect of school improvement. We hope future articles will include a more extensive examination of the roles and needs of LSCs in supporting school success.

Andrew G. Wade, Executive Director
Chicago School Leadership Cooperative

Brenda Bell, PENCUL Training Director
Chicago School Leadership Cooperative

Editor’s Note: EXCEL stands for Evaluation Expertise for Councils and Educational Leaders, and PENCUL stands for Partnership to Encourage the Next Century’s Urban Leaders.