Koldyke wrong about LAUNCH record

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In the September 2007 issue of Catalyst Chicago, you published a guest column from Martin “Mike” J. Koldyke, retired founder of Frontenac Co. In his comments, Mr. Koldyke waxed eloquently about the evolution of his involvement with school transformation in Chicago. Many of his points are well-taken. However, there was one statement made by Mr. Koldyke that we found extremely troubling.

In his attempt to extol the accomplishments of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, he asserts: “Then there was LAUNCH, the principal training program. It was not very effective and needs to be revitalized or replaced.” Webster’s dictionary states that the word assert “implies stating confidently without need for proof or regard for evidence.”

In our opinion, that is, unfortunately, exactly what Mr. Koldyke did. And we respectfully and adamantly disagree! Let the facts speak for themselves.

Now in its 10th year of existence, LAUNCH has trained 242 individuals for leadership in Chicago Public Schools—more than any other district-supported program. Factoring in the 44 retirements, there are presently 107 principals, 41 assistant principals, two area instruction officers, 37 central and area office administrators (including the deputy to the chief executive officer and the officer of teacher recruitment) and 11 school-based teacher leaders who can proudly say that they are a part of the LAUNCH Urban Network.

Quantity is not the only area in which the numbers reflect LAUNCH’s excellence. A close examination of the 2007 ISAT data for the Chicago Public Schools will show that factoring out the performance of the LAUNCH-led schools would negatively impact the much-celebrated rate of academic growth for the district.

Moreover, as more principal prep programs came on the horizon and inevitable comparisons began to be made among them, it was only logical that we focus more specifically on our own performance data.

For example, in 2002, we began to track the performance of schools led by LAUNCH principals assigned between 1998 and 2002. In comparing the test scores of those schools from 2002 through 2006 to the scores of all other schools, we identified a clear trend reflecting LAUNCH schools outperforming the others. The data also show that LAUNCH-led schools had higher scores than those led by principals trained by the New Leaders for New Schools program.

LAUNCH has always prided itself on training its Fellows to enthusiastically assume the mantle of leadership at any level. Currently, 10 out of the top 35 elementary schools are led by LAUNCH-trained principals, including three in the top 10. Additionally, the No. 1 and No. 2 high schools in the state—Northside College Prep and Payton College Prep—are now led by LAUNCH-trained principals, after national searches and rigorous selection processes were conducted to replace retiring administrators.

Conversely, when CPS needed highly trained, uniquely qualified, courageous and relentless leaders to undertake the job of “turning around” some of our city’s most challenging school environments (Earle Elementary and Harper High), LAUNCH-trained leaders stepped to the front of the line. They are leaders that CEO Arne Duncan himself describes as “superstars.”

Moreover, the district’s record first-day attendance was bolstered by Bronzeville Scholastic High School, at 99 percent. That school’s principal just happens to be a 1999 graduate of the LAUNCH Program. And one of Chicago’s highest performing charter schools, Alain Locke Charter Academy, boasts a principal who completed the LAUNCH program in 2001.

Mr. Koldyke defines success as being reflected in “people who [will] make a real difference.” Well, LAUNCH-trained leaders ARE making a difference, both qualitatively and quantitatively, at every level across this city. From that perspective, the LAUNCH Program has been and continues to be a success.

Moreover, we agree with Mr. Koldyke that “there must be an initiative that is capable of training 40 or 50 principal candidates each year.” However, it takes resources and real commitment from all stakeholders to support this type of broad vision. Hopefully, his leadership and passion will inspire others to provide the necessary support to make this a reality. Until that happens, LAUNCH will continue to move forward with smaller numbers (16 this year) but with the same commitment to developing the highest quality of compassionate, visionary and relentless leadership to serve the children and the communities of Chicago.

Clarice Jackson-Berry

President, Chicago Principals and Administrators Association

Joan Dameron Crisler

Managing director, LAUNCH