Learning the ropes

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Principals must be rigorously trained initially and on an on-going basis in administration, budget management, effective leadership, staff development, human relations and effective communication.

The Mayor’s Education Summit, May 1988

Like many of the lofty goals set by Mayor Harold Washington’s Education Summit, this one has not yet been met. However, it is getting far more attention from the current School Board than from its predecessors.

Last year, the board signed a $1.2 million contract with the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association to open the Chicago Academy for School Leadership (CASL), where school administrators get together once a month to read, discuss and lean on each other, and to launch the Leadership Initiative for Transformation (LIFT), which offers mentors to new principals.

So far, CASL has involved 220 principals and 18 assistant principals, and LIFT has served 38. CASL Director Karen Dyer, who formerly headed a regional center of the highly regarded California School Leadership Academy, is understanding of principals who have not joined in. “Many of these people are just trying to keep one nostril above water as it is. They feel they don’t have time, or they’re working on a doctorate. But more and more are coming on board.”

In the meantime, an uncounted number of principals are getting varying degrees of guidance from school improvement programs such as the Coalition of Essential Schools, Comer School Development Project and Small Schools Workshop. This group includes principals whose schools are on probation.

There are grassroots principal networks, too. The principals of Orr High School and its elementary feeder schools have met regularly since the beginning of reform. Two years ago, a group of West Side elementary principals started meeting, and last month, a similar group was formed on the Mid-South Side. Typically, such networks also have outside facilitators, who are paid from foundation grants.

In a unique alliance, Roosevelt and Loyola universities offer a master’s degree in education administration expressly for principals; it includes internships and mentoring from retired principals. This year, the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University launched a master’s degree program in principal leadership. In a first, the Reform Board agreed to pay half tuition for students.

The Reform Board also is requiring aspiring principals to take 70 clock hours of coursework in staff evaluation, observation, remediation and professional development. A six-week internship is required for inside-the-system candidates who have not been full-time assistant principals.