Hiring in full swing for turnarounds

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Back in April, Chicago Public Schools launched a new website, Teach Chicago Turnarounds, to recruit the best talent to staff this year’s batch of turnaround schools, which for the first time included two high schools.

Two months later, 1,500 would-be teachers have applied through the site, and principals at several turnarounds report that they have each received applications from more than 500 candidates.

“We’ve tried to brand [turnarounds] as a cutting-edge opportunity,” says Nancy Slavin, who oversees CPS teacher recruitment and hiring.

Principals at Orr High School and feeder elementary schools Morton and Howe say they each received 500 or more inquiries from teacher candidates. These schools, all to be operated under a contract deal between the district and the Academy for Urban School Leadership, report being nearly done with teacher hiring.

On the other hand, two of the district’s in-house turnaround projects—Harper High School and Fulton Elementary—have hired only about half of the teachers they need.

The district’s Office of School Turnarounds brought in extra manpower to lend a hand, particularly at Harper, where the principal had to juggle teacher hiring with the day-to-day operations of running a high school.

Incoming principals for Harper’s elementary feeder schools, Fulton and Copernicus, were completely freed from their old jobs and had more time to focus on staffing.

Slavin declined to disclose the number of teachers who had been hired or identified as finalists at Harper, Fulton and Copernicus, saying that it was too early.

“Though we are looking to get hiring completed at turnaround schools as soon as possible, we are more interested in the quality and suitability of the teacher [candidates],” Slavin wrote in an email response to Catalyst Chicago’s request for data. “The schools are being strategic.”

Consultants from The New Teacher Project (which runs Chicago Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program) helped the district screen resumes and conduct telephone interviews based on principals’ needs.

Incoming Howe Principal Keisha Campbell says the expertise helped her find teacher candidates who “best fit the school organization we are trying to build.”

Still, turnaround principals say it has been challenging to find special education, math and science teachers. Orr was able to fill six specialty teaching positions with graduates from The New Teacher Project’s alternative certification program. Even so, the school is still looking for two more math teachers.

Orr, Howe and Morton:
Inside pipeline for new teachers

The new Orr Academy and its feeder schools relied heavily on hiring teachers from the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) pool of newly minted teachers. So far, 27 of this year’s 44 graduating residents have been placed in the three new turnarounds.

Four new graduates and three others who were previously trained by AUSL wound up at Morton Elementary. Incoming Principal Connie Grason says she turned away applicants, including many of the school’s former teachers, because they did not have experience with balanced literacy. The reading strategy is a centerpiece of AUSL’s teacher-training curriculum.

The goal was to hire a critical mass of AUSL graduates (at least 60 percent) in core subject teaching positions at all three schools. At Orr, that didn’t happen.

“We just did not have enough,” says AUSL Executive Director Donald Feinstein. Next year, AUSL is doubling the size of its training program. (See related story.) To attract more teacher residents, the program will now ask graduates to commit to four, instead of five, years of teaching after they complete training. Also, they will be directed to placements in turnaround schools; previously, the only stipulation was that they work in one of the district’s chronically underperforming schools.

More AUSL-led high school turnarounds are likely in the works:  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has earmarked funds to underwrite two more.

The challenge of filling Orr Academy’s teaching slots was compounded by new Princial Jammie Poole’s goal to hire enough staff to retain some of the wide variety of courses offered by the shuttered small schools. (While Orr’s small schools employed 103 teachers, the consolidated Orr Academy will have only 93.)

“This has never been done before. We are writing the blueprint,” Poole says.

Orr is also facing higher-than-projected enrollment. District budget officials estimated that 1,280 students would enroll next year. Teacher hiring was based on this figure. Already, though, 1,360 students are registered—80 more than the number projected and 40 more than the number (1,320) who enrolled last school year. Many more students are likely show up over the summer. 

Harper, Copernicus and Fulton:
‘We are a bit behind the curve’

Harper Principal Kenyatta Butler is the only one of CPS’ turnaround principals who won’t be new to her job. Butler began her tenure at Harper a year ago.

But this distinction actually worked against her this spring, as she was also the only turnaround principal who kept working at a school while she tried to build a new one. (At some point, an assistant principal was elevated to acting principal to free up some of Butler’s time.)

“We are drowning,” says Jones College Prep Principal Donald Fraynd, who was tapped by district officials in May to lend a hand with teacher hiring at Harper. Fraynd, too, has struggled to balance managing the Harper turnaround project with his principal job at Jones.

Harper has hired just over half of the 58 teachers it will need this fall. Fraynd is looking to fill more slots after a June 26 job fair. He and Butler expect to have a full staff in place by the end of July—in time to run a full month of teacher training.
 
“We want to find quality people, and that’s just something that we don’t feel we should rush into doing,” Butler says.

She says she has conducted more than 50 face-to-face interviews, which involve both personal interviews and a three-and-a-half-hour group interview that tests candidates’ collaborative skills.

Meanwhile, incoming principals at Copernicus and Fulton were relieved of their duties at their old elementary schools—White and Joplin, respectively—in late March so they would have time to work on teacher hiring.

The extra time made a difference for Copernicus, where most of next year’s staff is lined up, according to Tabatha Koylass, deputy director of school development in the CPS Office of School Turnarounds.
 
Fulton, however, is only about 60 percent of the way there, she says.

Principal Rolland Jasper says the number of teachers he can hire for next year has not yet been set.

“We realized that as a district we didn’t have the infrastructure in place to adequately support [hiring],” Fraynd says. AUSL “has that infrastructure. We are just a little bit behind the curve.”

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