New board rule boosts AP stability

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Assistant principals are enjoying a slight increase in security under a rule the School Board adopted in August.

The new rule gives additional force to an existing Human Relations Department policy that was not always followed in the field. The key provision addresses situations where the School Board temporarily assigns a contract principal to a new position, such as guiding a school placed on intervention, while an interim principal takes over the contract principal’s school.

In some cases, for instance, the interim principals selected new assistant principals. But the interim and the new assistant principal often were replaced when the temporarily reassigned principals returned to their original schools.

“That was just too much instability,” says Dave Peterson, assistant to the president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

Now, assistant principals can be replaced by an interim only if there is a true vacancy in the principal’s job. “It certainly gives assistant principals a little more job security,” Peterson notes.

Before 1993, assistant principals held their positions as long as they liked, regardless of changes in a school’s top leadership. In 1993, the Chicago Teachers Union agreed to term limits—from then on, newly selected assistants (and head teachers) would serve for the same period of time as the principals who selected them. However, individuals who were assistant principals on Sept. 1 of that year were grandfathered into their jobs.

In 1997, former CEO Paul Vallas took advantage of new flexibility in state law, the so-called 4.5 provisions, and applied the term limits to those individuals as well. That meant that new principals could replace assistant principals when they arrived at a school—so long as they gave 30 days’ notice. The idea was to build a leadership team that had a common approach.

As before, acting principals may appoint only an acting assistant principal if there is a vacancy. Both can fill their positions for no more than 100 days.

Despite the School Board’s attempt to improve stability in the administrative ranks, some local school council advocates say additional changes should be made to ensure continuity and cohesion.

Reform advocates are concerned that the new rule does not address one aspect of LSC authority. “[The Board] will by fiat move a four-year contract principal and put them in some other position. The LSC can’t do anything about that until the end of the contract,” notes Sarah Vanderwicken of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The Lawyers’ Committee recommends that a vacancy be declared whenever a principal is permanently reassigned. That would allow the local school council to name a new principal, who could build his or her own team.

Under the new rule, the board has attempted to clarify the definition of a “vacancy.” A principal vacancy is created when the principal dies, resigns, loses certification or is fired; when the school is closed or consolidated; or when the principal is removed under probation, educational crisis or intervention.

Deputy Chief Education Officer Carlos Azcoitia says principals make the decision to resign or keep their contracts when the board assigns them to a new school. “The principal at Orr went back to his former school because he has a contract,” he notes.