Training ‘the best talent’ for principal jobs

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A golden opportunity is being created for 40 educators with principal certificates who want to become principals in the Chicago public schools.

Called LAUNCH (for Leadership Academy: An Urban Network for Chicago), the program will provide all-expenses-paid training over the summer by education and management faculty from Northwestern University and then a paid ($40,000) internship as an associate principal at a Chicago public school for a semester. The School Board is funding the internships.

“We’re trying to find the best talent out there,” says Al Bertani, a University of Chicago researcher who is the program’s chief director.

LAUNCH Executive Director Ingrid Carney, a former principal of Pullman Elementary, says the selection process will have two parts: screening each candidate’s resume, writing sample and references, then choosing and interviewing about 100 finalists. While selection criteria haven’t been firmed up, Carney says the selection committee, as yet unnamed, will be looking for “leadership experience” and “someone who’s willing to push the envelope, to push people to a higher level.”

“In a nutshell,” she adds, “what we want is people who believe in children and hold high expectations for children, and who believe in teachers and hold high expectations for teachers.” LAUNCH bills itself as “an historic opportunity to invigorate the leadership of Chicago’s 560 schools.”

LAUNCH has decided, however, not to rely on a new, voluntary program that will identify strengths and weaknesses of would-be principals. Carney says candidates who go through the new assessment center based at the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club will not be given preferential treatment for LAUNCH, although a positive assessment could help someone’s chances.

LAUNCH candidates must already have their state principal certificate and the work experience required by the Reform Board. LAUNCH recently mailed recruitment materials to all 2,500 Chicago Public Schools employees who qualify, and to some system outsiders.

Bertani says the joint training in management and education and the full-time internship set LAUNCH apart from other principal-training programs.

However, a new master’s degree program offered through Northwestern’s Total Quality Schools office also offers training in management and education. Unlike LAUNCH, this three-year program is aimed at teachers working toward principal certification; applicants must pass the GMAT, a rigorous, national exam. The Reform Board picks up half their tuition.

And CALL (Chicago Alliance: Leadership for Learning), at Roosevelt and Loyola universities, offers a two-year internship as part of its master’s degree program. During the school year, students work in teams of six on projects such as drafting budgets and writing school improvement plans. In the summer, students work one-on-one with principals. CALL employs retired principals as professors and mentors.

The CALL internship is unpaid and does not include a job title. Doris Barnes, who directs the program, remarks that in comparison, LAUNCH graduates will have an edge. “It’s going to open doors a little faster,” she says. “You’re certainly putting this group of people on the fast track.”

At the press conference announcing the program, Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas said, in response to a question, that LAUNCH participants could be used in schools on probation.

Kermit Buckner, professional development director at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, commends LAUNCH for stressing management skills, which he says is true of the best programs nationwide. Meanwhile, Ron Areglado, an associate executive director at the National Association of Elementary School Principals, likes the internship. “I think it has a lot of promise,” he says. “Principals who enter into a preparation program often just get a lot of theoretical information.”

Sy Fliegel, a Manhattan Institute fellow and a LAUNCH board member, says he worked to make sure participants would spend more time in a real-life work setting than in the classroom. “Existing principal training programs are located at the university,” he says. “I’m willing to bet that not 10 percent of those doing the training have ever been a principal.”

However, some local observers have reservations. Jackie Gallagher, spokesperson for the Chicago Teachers Union, says the criteria for choosing participants are too vague and open to favoritism. “You don’t want to get paranoid and say, are we getting back to political plums for certain people? Is this a new style of patronage?” she says. “On the other hand, ‘Who sets criteria?’ is a question we’ve been asking since schools were reconstituted. The question again comes up here.”

Gallagher also says that by fully funding the internships, the board may feel obligated to hire the participants. “Does this mean that they are then absolutely obligated to bring in these people?” she wonders.

Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), notes that criteria like “people who believe in children” don’t address the practical skills needed to be a good principal. “These are fundamental philosophical holdings that you’d want a principal to have,” she notes, “but they don’t give you a lot of information about how effective that person would be.”

Woestehoff says that, given the unanswered questions about the program, her position is to “wait and see.”

James Hammonds, advocacy director for the Chicago Association of Local School Councils, takes issue with LAUNCH putting titled administrators in schools without local say-so. “That’s the authority of the LSC being circumvented,” he says. “It brings into the school someone the local school council can’t control.”

The committee to create LAUNCH was spearheaded by Martin Koldyke, a Northwestern University trustee who is active in the Chicago public schools, and Beverly Tunney, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

In addition to Fliegel, other board members are CPS Chief Education Officer Cozette Buckney; Janet Froetscher, director of the Financial Research and Advisory Committee; Northwestern University deans Penelope Peterson (education) and Donald Jacobs (management); and Marc Tucker and Patricia Harvey of the National Center on Education and the Economy, which works in probation schools through its National Alliance to Restructure Education.