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Strong test scores and clean financial audits are essential for schools to be eligible for AMPS. But for the last two years, candidates had to clear another hurdle: Getting the blessing of their area instructional officer.

That’s going to change. Melissa Megliola, who runs the AMPS effort, says a new point-based system tied to the district’s new scorecards will be used to pick the next group of schools that will be invited to join. Test score gains will become a dominant factor, along with school climate as measured by student surveys. Financial and operational affairs will also be scored.

“We’re trying to take the subjectivity out of it,” she says, noting Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins will still have the final say.

With gains practically across the board for 2006 tests, Megliola predicts that most current AMPS schools will remain eligible and as many as 25 schools will be added. She suspects that six or seven elementary schools will face pressure to show improvement by June or face the ax.

CEO Arne Duncan has long asserted that the district get out of the way of its “star” principals and allow them to be more entrepreneurial. AMPS also frees up AIOs to focus on struggling schools. “It’s all connected,” he says.

Chicago’s autonomy hierarchy is somewhat unique. New York City recently announced it would pursue a more democratic approach and give all its schools the option to take on sweeping autonomy, a strategy that at least one AMPS principal disagrees with.

“[Autonomy] should be for those schools that have proven themselves,” says Principal Jerryelyn Jones of Curie High School.