Principal programs ‘unique’

Print More

Three training programs for aspiring CPS principals have earned reputations and resources that put them ahead of the rest. But when it comes to getting jobs for those who graduate, one effort has an edge over the others.

Nearly two out of every three people who completed principal training with New Leaders for New Schools, a national program that launched in Chicago and New York five years ago and specializes in tapping career changers, have landed jobs as principals.

By contrast, a district-funded principal program, dubbed LAUNCH for Leadership Academy and Urban Network for Chicago, has placed fewer than half (49 percent) of its graduates in principal jobs. The newest entry, University of Illinois-Chicago’s Urban Education Leadership program, so far has a principal placement rate of 42 percent.

Executive Director April Ervin attributes New Leaders’ success to its placement strategy, which focuses on charters and new small schools, many of which opened recently under the district’s Renaissance 2010 initiative. “We’ve worked hard to establish partnerships with charter management and other organizations opening schools,” she says. “That creates opportunities, as well.”

Meanwhile, LAUNCH has seen its principal placement rate slide in the nine years since it was created, from a high of 68 percent for its first class in 1998 to 21 percent for the most recent group. It also has fewer resources than it once did, which has cut the number of people enrolled in half, from 37 in 1998 to 19 this year.

One reason for the dip, says Faye Terrell-Perkins, who oversees LAUNCH and other CPS leadership development programs, is that most candidates in the early years were already assistant principals, who are perceived as “the people who are most ready” to become principals by those who hire them.

By law, principals in traditional Chicago public schools—not charters, special schools or those otherwise designated as exempt—are hired by local school councils, an elected body of parents, teachers and community residents. Exceptions are low-performing public schools that have been placed on probation, whose principals are hired and fired by district officials.

The complicated process can make it difficult for candidates to work their way through the pipeline, says Terrell-Perkins. “The way things work in Chicago just doesn’t afford that kind of rapid movement to the principalship,” she says.

UIC’s Urban Education Leadership program is the latest entry and the only one to offer the opportunity for candidates to earn a doctorate in education. As such, some of those who enter the program are already principals, like Pat Baccillieri of South Loop Elementary who had already completed New Leaders before entering UIC’s program.

Baccilieri says another reason he decided to continue in the UIC program was because New Leaders had not yet developed ongoing support for graduates. (It since has, he notes.)

“We are so far just finding our feet, in terms of getting people into principal [jobs] after the first year,” says Steve Tozer, a co-founder of UIC’s Urban Education Leadership program. “I’m not terribly disappointed if, after one year, a teacher moves out of the classroom into an AP position. That may be the best possible developmental step for that person.”

Amy Kotz entered UIC’s program as a lead teacher at Cooper Elementary. Now she is assistant principal at Albany Park. She is still aiming for principal. “That’s the direction they really push for, and I know that’s my next step,” she says.

Districtwide, there is greater pressure to produce more principals right away. This summer alone, 62 principals—some 10 percent of the total—retired. At the same time, CPS is aiming to open 60 or more schools over the next four years to meet its Renaissance goal of 100 new schools.

With about 45 new candidates being funneled into the pipeline each year, many wonder how Chicago Public Schools will be able to meet demand for talented principals.

Chicago Principals and Administrators Association President Clarice Berry says she’s not worried. She estimates a backlog of 200 mostly “high quality” candidates. “I don’t think the shortage is as dire as people expected it to be.”

But Kent Peterson, an educational administration professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison who is advising CPS on leadership programs, is more concerned. “Unless the three programs increase the number of students they take in, I don’t see how Chicago is going to replace 60 to 100 principals per year,” he says.

From a national perspective, Peterson believes Chicago’s programs are relatively rigorous, providing support and training farther along the career continuum than most. “That is really unique,” he says. “Corporations do that, but there aren’t many school districts that have that kind of career-staged program.”

Ed Finkel is a Chicago-based writer. E-mail him at editor@catalyst-chicago.org.