Principals raid partners for staff

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The School Achievement Structure program of DePaul University, one of Chicago’s largest external partners, is helping schools in a way it had not intended: It’s supplying them with trained administrators.

Over the past two years, principals at seven probation schools have hired SAS facilitators, all of them Chicago teachers on loan, as assistant principals.

“My staff is field tested, and schools know this, so they steal them,” laughs Kymara Chase, SAS’s executive director. “Some of my best people have been taken.”

Beverly Tunney, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, welcomes the development. “Principals are looking to get good staff with backgrounds in areas that will help their schools improve,” she says. “The better the knowledge base, the better the instruction in the school.”

Linda Langheart, principal at Dodge Elementary, is one of the raiders. “I did it without hesitation, and I felt no guilt,” she says with a chuckle.

Langheart says hiring Judy Knox Carter, her school’s SAS facilitator, is one of the best moves she’s made during her two years as principal. Carter’s specialty is language arts, and she’s had experience in staff and curriculum development. Langheart knew of her work as a teacher at Smyth School, too.

Carter didn’t come easily. “The probation manager and I had to talk her into it,” Langheart concedes.

“I kept saying no,” says Carter. “I wasn’t really ready to leave SAS, but [Dodge] kept giving me the sob story about the children and how I was needed. … Eventually they wore me down.”

Carter slid easily into her new responsibilities—primarily teacher monitoring and SAS program coordination—in part because they aren’t much different from her old ones. “The staff knows my style, so there were no surprises. I think I have a warm, professional relationship with the staff. The only change in the relationship is I now have some authority.”

“I can help the school transition from needing an SAS facilitator to becoming its own facilitator,” she adds.

Some principals have gone after SAS facilitators at other schools. During a series of workshops last year, longtime SAS staffer Josie Lecture caught the eye of Lewis School Principal Gladys Pruitt, who talked her into becoming the school’s assistant principal.

“I hemmed and hawed at first, but Gladys told me ‘Don’t make me beg,'” she laughs. “One of my major strengths is I’m good at organizing people and getting them to do the things they need to do. I also think she wanted me because we have the same kind of personality, and she saw someone she could trust.”

Unlike Lecture and Carter, Paulette Boston, a former SAS facilitator who is now assistant principal at Brown Elementary, says she was ready for a change. “I talked to the principals at the schools where I had done workshops and asked if they would recommend me for an assistant principal position,” she says.

Brown Principal Connie Thomas says that Boston’s expertise in reading and “wealth of knowledge” attracted her. “She has been an excellent resource and is now working directly with our children.”

Boston monitors 7th- and 8th-grade teachers and mentors a new 3rd-grade teacher. She also is working with retained 8th-graders to prepare them to retake Iowa tests in January.

SAS facilitators say that the external partner program is great on-the-job training for administration. “I learned about curriculum, management, assessments, discipline, working with teachers and personalities, you name it,” says Valetta Rodgers, who became assistant principal at Carver Elementary.

Rodgers says that Carver Principal Linda Randolph “knew I was with SAS. She wanted to change her reading program and knew I was a [Direct Instruction] specialist, and she needed an assistant principal. She killed three birds with one stone.”

Rodgers’s job was supported by state Chapter 1 funds; when the school’s allotment dropped, her job followed. She is now dean of students at Bethune Elementary.

Six years ago, principals would have been hard pressed to take advantage of the SAS training ground. Under the Chicago Teachers Union contract, assistant principals had tenure in their schools, meaning a new principal had to keep whomever was there. In 1993, the Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union agreed that, in the future, assistant principals would serve coterminously with their principals, meaning new principals could fill slots that weren’t occupied by assistants appointed before 1993.

In 1996, the Reform Board took advantage of new state legislation diminishing the CTU’s power and eliminated the grandfather clause. Now a new principal can put together his or her own team.

SAS’s Chase says that while she is sorry to lose good staff, she is happy to increase the pool of good principal candidates. In the end, she notes, “We’re all family.”