Report raises concerns about principal turnover

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A survey from the Chicago Public Education Fund finds that four out of every 10 principals will start looking for a new job in the next three years -- blaming too much CPS bureaucracy and not enough quality professional development.

Photo by Michelle Kannar

A survey from the Chicago Public Education Fund finds that four out of every 10 principals will start looking for a new job in the next three years -- blaming too much CPS bureaucracy and not enough quality professional development.

Chicago Public Schools principals overwhelmingly say they care more about reducing paperwork than getting extra pay, according to a new report on principal retention by the Chicago Public Education Fund.

Seventy percent of the 423 principals who responded to the Fund’s survey — nearly two-thirds of all CPS principals — want to spend less time on compliance, such as filling out forms and completing data requests, while just 33 percent want an increase in pay. (The median salary last year for CPS principals was $132,036.)

Forty percent of the principals say they will look for a new job in the next three years. The percentage who indeed left in the last three years was 41, not counting schools that were closed or had an acting principal.

Paperwork and other issues, such as ineffective principal development opportunities, were cited as reasons.

Heather Anichini

Heather Anichini

Heather Anichini, president and CEO of the Fund, says higher turnover rates are found only in the retail, hospitality and logging industries.

“Chicago’s a city that has invested a lot of time, energy and dollars in training people,” Anichini says, noting that while the 40 percent who plan to explore other options are cause for concern, that percent is similar to percentages in other major cities.

In a separate analysis of CPS data on principals who started in CPS in the 2007-2008 school year, the Fund found that 60 percent of principals from all types of schools, including charter and contract schools, leave before the end of their fifth year, when data suggest they reach their peak effectiveness.

“We’d like to see [principals] stay beyond that five years and into the end of their second contracts, to make the gains that they see with students stick,” Anichini says.

The Fund also reported that:

  • Principals spend about as much time on compliance (an average of two hours a day) as they do working with teachers (an average of two and a quarter hours a day).
  • 20 percent of exiting leaders attribute their departure to “district demands and mission misalignment.”
  • 46 percent of principals say they want more personalized professional development opportunities. Forty percent of principals already seek PD opportunities outside the district.

These findings come on the heels of the SUPES Academy corruption scandal. Principals complained bitterly about the quality of that professional development program, which was first brought into the district on the Fund’s dime. The report says the district’s currently available PD options follow a “one-size-fits-none” approach.

The report recommends that CPS find ways to give principals more time to focus on instruction. It also asks the district, universities with principal training programs and nonprofits alike to respond to principals’ needs for more personalized development, to help them learn how to better use existing budgeting and curriculum tools and to expand leadership opportunities and peer-to-peer learning.

In a statement, CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson says the development and retention of high-quality principals is a top priority.

“The number of high-performing principals in CPS has grown significantly in recent years, and we welcome this report because it will help us build on the progress we have made,” she wrote.

Tough to stay silent

Responding to the findings from the Fund’s report, Troy LaRaviere, the outspoken principal of Blaine Elementary, says he understands the challenges that may drive colleagues out.

“To come into a profession with a goal of making a difference in students’ lives and then constantly being presented with an agenda from your superiors that does the opposite … and have to implement that in silence … that is a difficult thing to do,” he says.

CPS has tried a multitude of tactics to keep good principals from leaving. This summer, the district rolled out a program to give high-performing principals more autonomy from district bureaucracy. The district has also tried giving good principals bonuses through a privately funded, four-year program started by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011. (Only the first three years’ worth of bonuses have been given out so far.)

LaRaviere is one of just seven principals who received a merit bonus during all three years. But the extra money wasn’t a factor in his decision to stay. (See below for a breakdown of what principals got the bonus pay.)

“For me, it was work silently in fear or work openly and vocally, without fear, for best education practice,” he says. “And I decided leaving was not going to be the option.”

LaRaviere thinks another reason principals leave is “contradictions” from the district; he cites the Board’s decision to approve new charter schools while laboring under a $480 million deficit.

For some, more autonomy helps

Still, some principals who applied to and were selected for the district’s Independent Schools Program (ISP) earlier this summer say the district already has made improvements.

In August, the district tapped 28 top-performing principals for the program, which gives principals freedom from some red tape and more flexibility in managing their finances.

Two ISP principals Catalyst spoke with say that having more autonomy is key to keeping them interested in their work — especially when it comes to designing programming and solving problems in their schools.

Both Barton Dassinger of Chavez Multicultural Academic Center and D’Andre Weaver of Brooks College Preparatory Academy attended a luncheon earlier this week where the Fund released its report.

“I think Chicago is unique because we do have a lot of control at the local level,” says Dassinger, who also received a merit bonus each year during the first three years of the bonus program. He noted the authority to hire new teachers and select school programs. “Having that autonomy and freedom is unique, and it’s what I love about being a principal in Chicago.”

But when asked whether he ever considered leaving CPS, Dassinger said he preferred not to answer.

Below is data obtained through a public records request to CPS on merit pay awarded to principals for the 2011-2012, 2012-2013, and 2013-2014 school years. Bonus pay for the last and final year of the program, 2014-2015, has not yet been awarded.

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