Principals face the chopping block and “on edge”

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CEO Ron Huberman today defended his administration’s practice of using a
disciplinary process that was once reserved for the worst principals to
remove those who haven’t been able to turn around struggling schools. Also, budget news…

CEO Ron Huberman today defended his administration’s practice of using a disciplinary process that was once reserved for the worst principals to remove those who haven’t been able to turn around struggling schools.

Huberman said on Wednesday that more than 100 principals will be encompassed in this move to rid the district of principals his administration believes are not driving change fast enough at their schools. Top officials have made it clear that they are not looking for incremental improvement, but rather substantial spikes in performance measures.

While some principals are retiring voluntarily and are from higher-performing schools, others are being forced out or are undergoing corrective plans that could be the first step in the dismissal process.

Traditionally, principals are removed by their local school council when the LSC decides not to renew their contract. Only eight LSCs decided not to give their principals another contract this year. Huberman contends that some LSCs are reluctant to do so “even after it is shown that they are not improving. I think it is incumbent on us to intervene when they are not taking action.”

For those principals at poorly-performing schools where the LSC is not making a move, Huberman said the backup provided to him is to use a Direct Action Plan, which gives principals nine months to a year to show progress, or a Corrective Action Plan, allowing only six months.

In addition to the eight whose contracts were not renewed by their LSCs, Huberman outlined how he is getting rid of these principals:

•    He plans to fire two principals “outright.” Since he became CEO last year, he has fired five other principals. In the past, it was highly unusual for even one principal to be fired in a year for failure to make improvements. CPS administrators can fire principals at schools on probation without cause.

•    Fourteen are undergoing corrective plans aimed at improving their performance. By fall, another 20 will be issued one of these warning plans. In the past, only a few principals each year were given such corrective plans. The fact that Huberman includes these principals in the category of “being removed” doesn’t bode well for their long-term prospects.

•    Fourteen principals have announced they will voluntarily resign and another 48 are retiring. Some of the retiring principals are from performing schools and are simply leaving in a natural process of attrition, but others are being pressured to leave.

Catalyst first reported on the increasing number of principals undergoing disciplinary procedures and firings in late April. http://catalystchicago.largoproject.org/notebook/index.php/entry/658/Principals_feeling_the_heat_under

The recently released spring issue of In Depth reported on changes in the principalship under Huberman’s watch. http://catalystchicago.largoproject.org/issue/index.php?issueNo=155

Whether there are enough good candidates to fill these positions remains a question mark. At the moment, there are only 263 people in the principal candidate pool, according to Monica Santana Rosen, the head of the Office of Principal Preparation and Development.

Budget News

One principal said Huberman’s pronouncement that he was firing principals has every school leader on edge. Her school is struggling to get 50 percent of students to meet or exceed state standards on the ISAT, and she is worried.

Taking out the community, parents and teachers and making a top-down decision to get rid of principals is a bad precedent to set, she said.

“Some principals went into a situation where there were low expectations and limited resources,” the principal said. “It takes more than a year to clean up the problem.”

She said these principal removals come at an especially bad time with a budget crisis looming and principals being told they may have to lay off several teachers and let class sizes swell to 35 students.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Huberman and Mayor Richard M. Daley called on state lawmakers to pass level funding for education, instead of the $1.3 billion cut proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn. The Senate passed a budget with level funding, but the budget failed in the House. State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie said she is working on getting the Senate budget passed so that “everything doesn’t go to hell in a hand basket.”

If the $1.3 billion cut holds, CPS stands to lose $300 million and its deficit will be about $600 million. In that case, class sizes will swell, money for Montessori and magnet schools will be trimmed and charter schools will get 8 to 10 percent less.

But if lawmakers are able to pass a bill with level education funding and CPS’ deficit is only $300 million, Huberman said Tuesday he will fill the gap by asking the union to make some concessions. According to the union contract, CPS is supposed to pay the teachers an additional 4 percent in the coming year.