Principal training program scores average in placements

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Asst. Principal Frank Haggerty

photo by Christine Oliva

Asst. Principal Frank Haggerty

Five years ago, educator Frank Haggerty decided to shoot for the brass ring. After 28 years as a teacher and an assistant principal for Chicago Public Schools, he set his sights on becoming a principal.

“My goal was to run my own school,” says Haggerty, who was then an assistant principal at Schurz High. When he learned that a new CPS principal training program—Leadership Academy and Urban Network for Chicago (LAUNCH)—was seeking applicants, he leapt at the chance to participate.

After completing the program, Haggerty threw his hat into the ring at different schools, was a finalist twice, but still could not land a top spot.

“I have never gone all the way, never gotten the brass ring,” he laments.

When LAUNCH was created five years ago, its aim was to invigorate public school leadership by cultivating a pool of highly qualified principal candidates. At the time, the program was unique for combining management training with education courses, and for requiring participants to complete full-time internships.

One of 37 CPS educators selected for the inaugural class in 1998, Haggerty believed LAUNCH would provide the extra boost he needed to reach his goal. The program exceeded his expectations. “It was one of the best educational experiences I have ever had,” he says.

Haggerty says he does not blame LAUNCH for his unsuccessful attempts to land a principal job. He cites a variety of reasons, including the school system’s unique principal selection process—elected local school councils have the authority to hire and fire principals—and his own no-nonsense approach to leadership, which he believes may be perceived as abrasive.

Now an assistant principal at Richards High, Haggerty is unusual among his classmates that first year but not among graduates over all. Sixty-two percent of the inaugural participants are now principals, but only 27 percent of the 91 educators who completed the program between 1999 and 2001 are leading schools. Overall, LAUNCH’s principal placement rate is 37 percent, according to August 2002 statistics furnished by LAUNCH.

Since it was created, LAUNCH has established a solid reputation among CPS administrators for preparing aspiring principals to become good instructional leaders. Since LAUNCH graduated its first class, 48 of their so-called “fellows” have landed jobs as principal.

According to district officials, about 40 principal jobs are currently vacant, and 540 district employees have the credentials required to fill those spots.

By the end of this school year, 198 principal slots will need to be filled at 149 schools where contracts are set to expire and at another 49 that are led by interim or acting principals, according to Designs for Change, a school reform group.

A 2001 survey of LAUNCH graduates found 21 percent who cited politics as a major obstacle to landing a principal position.

G. Alfred Hess Jr., a Northwestern research professor who taught LAUNCH workshops for three years, has some reservations about the program. LAUNCH is “a well-conceived program, [but] more in-depth training is needed for the job of being a principal,” he says.

Placements

LAUNCH, of course, cannot guarantee that its graduates will get a principal job. Often, graduates return to their old schools and begin applying for principal and other administrative positions throughout the district.

Still, says LAUNCH’s founding director Ingrid Carney, “[LAUNCH] has accomplished what it set out to do: Provide well-trained people to move into the principal pipeline.” Carney, a former principal, now heads an umbrella organization that oversees LAUNCH and several other leadership programs for administrators.

LAUNCH Director Faye Terrell-Perkins says the program’s mission has shifted from training aspiring principals to preparing school leaders who could land administrative jobs at schools or at regional or central office. Since 1999, 12 LAUNCH graduates have been hired to work in central office administrative jobs. Among them are David Pickens, a 2001 graduate, who is deputy chief of staff to Arne Duncan; Nancy Slavin, class of 1998, director of substitute services; and Angela Buckels, 1998, deputy chief officer of professional development.

“[LAUNCH graduates] finish at different stages of readiness. We don’t advocate that anyone go from teaching to a principalship,” Terrell-Perkins explains, noting that a number of LAUNCH participants are teachers and the recommended career path for teachers is to become an assistant principal or school administrator first. Of the 30 members of the current 2002 class, nine are teachers.

For many years, Susan Kurland, a long-time educator with a doctorate, tried and failed to land a principal job. “I was always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” she quips.

Her fortunes turned when an out-of-town candidate declined the principal position at Nettelhorst, and the LSC asked to interview LAUNCH graduates.

Kurland, who completed the program in 1999, got the job. “They were looking for a good instructional leader, and the added LAUNCH training was beneficial,” she notes.

Three years later, Kurland says Nettelhorst is “a good place with a good fit.”

By contrast, Amelia Mason, a special education team teacher at Las Casas High School and a 1999 LAUNCH graduate, has been unsuccessful in snaring a principal or an assistant principal slot.

She credits LAUNCH for boosting her confidence and giving her a stronger foundation in leadership and hands-on management. Since returning to Las Casas in 2000, Mason has applied for an average of three assistant principal positions a year. “Not a nibble,” says Mason, who remains optimistic. “After finishing [LAUNCH], I would have loved to move on.

At first I was disappointed, but I’ll keep trying.”

Mason believes her inability to negotiate LSC politics has hampered her chances of getting a principal job.

Persistence is what paid off for Phyllis Crombie-Brown, a 1998 graduate who landed a principal job at Ronald Brown Elementary a year ago. “There was not a lot of consistency with what the LSCs want,” she says, noting her experiences with LSCs that distrusted programs supported by CPS.

Some LAUNCH graduates speculate that LSCs may not be familiar with LAUNCH, and as a result, may discount qualified candidates. However, Donald Moore of Designs for Change questions such assertions. “Many LSCs are positive toward LAUNCH candidates,” Moore says. “LAUNCH is a well-designed program that is grounded in research about effective principal models.”

Launching LAUNCH

The belief that principals are the most important component of school improvement led Beverly Tunney, president of the Chicago Principal and Administrators Association, and businessman Martin Koldyke to create an intensive training program that would enhance the pool of qualified principal candidates. The result was LAUNCH, a collaboration among the principal’s association, CPS and Northwestern University, where Koldyke is a trustee.

The application process for LAUNCH is rigorous. In addition to having a master’s degree and state certification to become principal, applicants must undergo a series of interviews, participate in a role-playing exercise and write an essay. Successful candidates are deemed to be the system’s best and brightest, and possess strong potential for leadership, Terrell-Perkins says.

“I look for [applicants who] have a passion for teaching and learning, good communications skills, an interest in leadership and can see issues globally,” she explains.

However, Hess notes that he was also troubled by some participants who believed low-income children cannot learn. “They must find ways to assess this [attitude] up front and weed these people out.”

Training begins with five weeks of instruction—an academic boot camp—at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. The courses cover a gamut of instructional and administrative issues that CPS principals face: team building, change management in schools, political frameworks, conflict management, negotiation and decision making, instructional strategies, school management and parent-community involvement. Instructors include faculty from Northwestern’s business and education and social policy schools, as well as CPS principals and administrators.

After completing the coursework, participants begin putting theory into practice in the fall when they are placed in five-month internships at public elementary and high schools and work side-by-side with the principal. They receive a $40,000 stipend that is paid by CPS.

Mentor principals undergo extensive screening to ensure that they have suitable experience and personalities to allow interns to shadow them daily, says Terrell-Perkins.

After completing the internship, LAUNCH graduates become members of its “urban network” of educators. Carney says this built-in support network allows fellows to keep in touch and support each other once they’re on the job.

Meanwhile, Haggerty keeps in touch with many of his LAUNCH classmates through the urban network, and attended a social gathering last fall. But, at 56, he says he has decided not to apply for any more principal jobs. In his most recent attempt, he was among five finalists for principal at Kennedy High.

Haggerty wonders whether LSCs give too much weight to personality and not enough to credentials, a factor that he believes hurt him during his job search.

“I’m not one who dances around an issue,” he says. “I tell people what is educationally sound, and they may not want to hear that.”

Still, he remains upbeat about his experience and training with LAUNCH. “It was an outlet that came at a time that was important,” Haggerty says. “I met people who share the same philosophies and goals.”