New principals group to weigh in on policy

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Led by the two principals who wrote editorials critical of CPS administration, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association has formed a new committee aimed at advocating for policy and amplifying principal voice.

The committee is calling itself Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education or AAPPLE. 

The committee plans to hold monthly forums, issue white papers and keep members better informed about what the CPAA is working on. It also has a discussion board on its website.

Topics for the first four forums are: Defining a successful school system; high quality teacher training and professional development; economics, poverty, segregation and education systems, and the role of schools and government in addressing the effects of poverty on school systems; and how do we build sustainable cities?

The first forum will be held on Aug. 21 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion.

Michael Beyer, principal of Morrill Elementary, said the forums are intended to help change the conversation and get at some core questions about the future of the CPS and the city. Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere says he thinks it is important that the new committee broadens the conversation.

“On the surface, some of the forum topics don’t have anything to do with school, but they have everything to do with school,” LaRaviere says.

The moderators will include Terry Mazany, president of The Chicago Community Trust, and academics Charles Payne of the University of Chicago and David Stovall of University of Illinois – Chicago.  Mazany served for about a year and a half as interim chief executive officer of CPS, bridging the Richard Daley and Rahm Emanuel administrations, and Payne was his chief education officer.

Beyer says the forum panels will include charter-school advocates, and the panel for the forum on sustainable cities will include mayoral candidates. “We want to have a professional debate on solutions,” he says.

LaRaviere has been outspoken in his opposition to Emanuel, and it would run contrary to standard political practice for an incumbent mayor to participate in a panel with opponents, particularly if it includes Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, a frequent, harsh critic who is weighing a run.

LaRaviere and Beyer say they want the committee to be non-political and that inviting mayoral candidates is meant to influence them rather than give them a platform.

“Our contributions to policy discussions will come from the experiences of CPS principals and assistant principals as they provide feedback on the very real effects of district and state policies,” LaRaviere says.  “Our contributions will also derive from an already large body of research on what has been proven to work for great school systems.”

While principals tend to be extremely busy, Beyer says organizers are hopeful that they will see the value of carving out a few hours a month to attend the forums, which will be open to the public.

The committee’s leaders are also working on white papers that outline some of the issues they are concerned about. The first one will be on implementation of the new physical education policy, which requires daily PE, and the second one will be on student-based budgeting.

Beyer says the group is hopeful that CPS leaders will take heed of the positions advocated in the white papers and eventually see the value in gauging the committee’s opinion before moving forward on policy. He notes that currently the CPAA is often informed about decisions a week before they are announced and has little chance of changing them.

Working with CPAA

LaRaviere and Beyer say they and a group of about eight other principals considered forming a new entity, but met with CPAA president Clarice Berry and decided that it would be best to work with the existing organization. “We saw no reason not to work with CPAA,” LaRaviere says.

LaRaviere wrote an editorial in May, criticizing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS leaders for not listening to teachers and principals and for forbidding them from talking to the press about what is going on in their schools.Then, in Catalyst, Beyer laid out the type of organization principals need to represent them.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood did not want to comment specifically on the creation of the new committee, but says CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has a principals’ advisory committee and listens intently to what those principals have to say. “We greatly value working with principals,” he says.

But LaRaviere says he does not think the advisory committee, chosen by Byrd-Bennett, can fully represent principals. He says the advisory committee’s function is to offer thoughts on subjects that Byrd-Bennett wants feedback on, not necessarily to look at issues that affect schooling or advocate for policies principals are concerned about.

Beyer also says CPS’ principal advisory committee is problematic as the only voice delivering the principal point of view to CPS. For one, no one knows who is on it, he says, so if a principal wants to communicate a concern, he or she doesn’t know whom to reach out to. Also, he says, those on it might be afraid to say what they really think.  

Berry, the CPAA president, says she has struggled to get principals to speak out on issues and welcomes the new committee. “First and foremost, the issue is fear. Principals are paralyzed,” she says.

Berry says she thinks the move to student-based budgeting sent principals “over the cliff.” “You have all these unfunded mandates and a mountain of accountability. It was like a volcano.”

 “Their colleagues see them as beacons,” Berry says. “They have confidence in them.”

LaRaviere says the feedback he has gotten from CPS principals is that they are hungry for such an entity. “I am hopeful,” he says.