Independent institute would help recruit, train principals

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Principals Chad Adams of Sullivan High, Adam Parrott-Sheffer of Peterson Elementary, and Troy LaRaviere of Blaine Elementary talk about training and other matters in 2014. (Parrott-Sheffer is now a principal in Burr Ridge District 180.)

Photos by Michelle Kanaar

Principals Chad Adams of Sullivan High, Adam Parrott-Sheffer of Peterson Elementary, and Troy LaRaviere of Blaine Elementary talk about training and other matters in 2014. (Parrott-Sheffer is now a principal in Burr Ridge District 180.)

A working group put together by Chicago Public Schools is recommending the creation of a new nonprofit that would take on much of the work around recruiting, training and retaining principals, as well as storing and analyzing data about their effectiveness.

The recommendation comes on the heels of a recent report from the non-profit Chicago Public Education Fund that found about 40 percent of the 423 school leaders who responded to its survey planned to look for a new job in the next three years and almost half wanted more personalized training.

It also comes in the wake of the unpopular SUPES Academy training program, which principals complained was too elementary and not tailored to their needs. Former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to fraud last fall after authorities say she steered a $20 million no-bid contract to SUPES in exchange for a kickback.

Now the district is looking at forming an independent “entity housed outside the CPS bureaucracy” and tentatively called the Chicago School Leadership Institute, which officials say would “respond to critical gaps” in the principal-development pipeline.

CPS officials say they’ll be working with philanthropic organizations and Chicago-area universities in the coming weeks to create an organization focused on principal recruitment and training.

But the announcement was short on several key details, including who exactly would be responsible for forming and running the nonprofit, how it would be funded and when its work would begin.

The idea to create a separate nonprofit was part of a report issued Monday by the Principal Quality Working Group, one of three groups put together by CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson. The other two are looking at high schools and school supports, but have yet to issue recommendations.

Among the challenges facing CPS, the report notes, is a lack of a “centralized and coordinated strategy for recruiting and preparing principals” with differentiated training that meets the needs of a variety of school types. Further, there’s no program to recruit, prepare and support assistant principals who want to move up.

A “lack of a succession planning strategy leaves schools scrambling to find the right candidates to fill open vacancies,” the report continues, and filling those vacancies can be a lengthy process. Last year, according to the report, it took five months on average to hire a principal at district-run schools.

Among the report’s other recommendations are: putting in place a new principal eligibility process that was launched in November, creating a website that helps potential principals navigate the system and trying to better retain assistant principals. More research is needed on principal placement, performance and retention rates in principal-prep programs the reports says, as well the effectiveness of professional development offered by CPS networks and other outside prep programs.

The working group was led by Jackson, School Board member Gail Ward, a former CPS principal who once oversaw the district’s principal preparation and development office, and Tony Miller, who works at the private-equity firm Vistria Group and sits on the Chicago Public Education Fund’s board.

Other group members included a CPS teacher, three principals and the CPS official overseeing principal quality, as well as representatives from universities, foundations and the Noble Network of Charter School’s assistant superintendent.

To make their recommendations, the working group looked at models in New York, Denver, Philadelphia, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and suburban Atlanta’s Gwinnett County, as well as existing programs in the Chicago area, like the four-year-old Chicago Leadership Collaborative, a partnership between CPS and selected local principal-prep programs.

In their report, working group members say the new leadership institute should remain separate from CPS because “Chicago’s ever-changing and politically-charged context necessitates that CSLI remain independent from city agencies and other organizations.” Having its own funding sources would also help it “withstand administrative or fiscal challenges elsewhere in the system.”

Clarice Berry, who heads the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association, said while the working group’s report had some good ideas, she worries it was a “knee-jerk reaction” to recent critical reports about principal training and development and that members hadn’t taken enough time to look at data and why principals are planning to leave CPS.

She also questions just how independent a separate nonprofit will be. The memorandum of understanding that governs how the group would run and its relationship with the district will be critical, she says. If it’s decided the nonprofit should be overseen by a governing board, Berry says, the board members and the powers they are given will also be important factors.

Working group members suggested that the governing board be made up of a top CPS official, a School Board member, “key seed funding partners,” principals, representatives from charter schools and the executive director of the new institute.

An advisory committee — possibly made up of researchers, funders, local school council members, assistant principals, teachers and others — could help guide the institute’s staff, the working group added.

The institute would raise money to pay for staff, as well as seek “seed funders” to pay for operations, and help find foundation funding for principal initiatives, the working group suggested.

Charter schools could access the institute for resources and data on their principals, the working group said, but that would be optional.

Berry cautioned that with the district’s half-billion-dollar deficit and potentially thousands of layoffs looming, it may not be the best time to roll out a brand-new initiative. She said she hoped CPS would take several months to plan, conduct focus groups and get principals’ honest feedback before putting the institute into action.

  • Concerned Parent

    Would not these selected universities to sponsor this group be in a fight with each other for the students and the money? And have not some of these universities prepared principals who have been successful, left or can’t even get on this list after they spent the money to get a principal education? Is a CPS board member in this group connected to Northwestern so would there may be favorites? A principal organization is mentioned here that represents CPS principals. Why are they not an active part of this?

  • Concerned Parent

    Risky to think of training-there will be cuts in February 2016 if Claypool keeps his word. Rauner was clear again today of no $$ help for CPS.