Principal selection process needs fine-tuning, not overhaul

In the September issue, Catalyst reported speculation by State Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishaw that a bill would be introduced in the General Assembly next spring to return the power of principal selection to the School Board. On the Sept. 14 edition of “City Voices,” broadcast on WNUA-FM, Catalyst Editor Linda Lenz led a discussion on this issue with John Ayers, executive director of Leadership for Quality Education, Sheila Castillo, director of the Chicago Association of Local School Councils, and Beverly Tunney, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. Below is an edited transcript.

Lake View a leader in AP calculus

This year, Lake View High School, a city pioneer in innovative math instruction, has one of the most extensive Advanced Placement calculus programs in the country. Sixty-one seniors, about a third of the senior class, are taking the college-level course.

NSF grants

The National Science Foundation, an independent government agency funded by Congress, gives grants to education and research programs in science, math, technology and engineering. Its goal is for all students to be technologically literate when entering the workplace or college. The following are among the larger grants NSF has made to Chicago area institutions in recent years.

$900,000 grant for innovative math teaching

On a hot day in July, students in Bill Buchanan’s math class at Foreman High School saunter around waving fake hundred-dollar bills. In clusters of four, they play dice and card games. But the main attraction is a roulette-like game. The dealer, senior Lisabelle Valle, instructs all players not to touch the board once their bets are placed. One student, who bet all his money on one number and lost, insists on playing one more round. “What do you have for collateral?” demands Lisabelle.

Comings and goings

TEACHER SCHOLARSHIPS The First Chicago NBD Corporation has created a $200,000 scholarship fund for Roosevelt University students who plan to become teachers in Chicago. The corporation will provide four-year scholarships for 12 future teachers (three per year). Scholarship recipients must be members of a high school Future Teachers Club. For more information, call Thomas R. Karow at Roosevelt University (312) 341-3510 or Thomas Kelly at First Chicago, (312) 732-7007.

Most high schools change schedules

Under its high school restructuring program, the Reform Board is mandating some sort of advisory for freshmen and sophomores as a way to help them with academic planning, career exploration and personal and social issues. In general, the aim is “to have a better relationship between adults and students at the school,” says project manager Gerod Walker.

Chicago Panel drops research for fact-finding

Since August, the Panel has produced three Initiative Status Reports: one on communications between schools and central office, one on the Parents as Teachers First program and one on the small schools program. The reports were distributed to a variety of individuals involved in school change, including the administrators who oversee the programs, funders and policy makers who support them, local school council members, parents, educators and employers.

Chicago Panel issues Initiative Status Reports

Parents as Teachers First

The report focuses on training in this $1.8 million home-visitation program, which is planned to serve 2,000 toddlers this school year.

Quality of training materials

Board-provided training materials are high quality, but are not always available to the Parent Tutor Mentors (PTMs).

Monitors report that not all materials are age-appropriate.

Test scores, other data added to principal evaluation

To get an “exceeds” rating in instructional leadership, at least 50 percent of students in the school must score at or above national norms in reading and math on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (elementary schools) or the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (high schools); at least 50 percent must meet or exceed state standards on the state IGAP tests. To obtain a “meets,” at least 15 percent of students must score at or above national norms, and test scores must be on the rise.

Business group launches principal assessment center

According to Dick Flannery, NASSP senior assessment administrator, 15,000 people have been assessed since 1978. Several states, including South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, New Jersey and Maryland, use assessment centers to help license principals. Only a smattering of large cities—San Diego, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Baltimore and Washington D.C.—have used them, says Flannery.



Parents will grade teachers. A new contract for teachers in Rochester is among the first in the country to bring parents into the teacher evaluation process, and to involve teachers in the evaluation of principals, according to the Sept. 17 issue of Education Week.

Parent input will be a formal part of teachers’ performance evaluations but will have no bearing on raises or promotions.

The issue of parent involvement had held up a contract agreement for more than a year. Union officials were concerned that parents would be asked to evaluate a teacher’s competence in a particular subject. Under a compromise between the School Board and the union, parents will be asked to respond to 20 questions that hone in on their relationship with their school.

Group helps communities

In North Lawndale, for example, a NCBG community organizer is surveying schools and property owners to help identify community development priorities. At the same time, NCBG research and organizational skills are helping community activists identify and prioritize needed school improvements and pressure school officials for funding under the Reform Board’s capital improvement plan.

Watchdogs applaud, still want details

Under the plan, the city will sell $800 million in bonds and forward the proceeds to the school system, which has reached the limit on bonds it can sell without a referendum. Without the new sale, the Reform Board would have had only about half the money needed to cover the $1.4 billion in projects it has outlined.

Mayor’s bonds will cost more in long run

The School Reform Board’s capital program has a new head of steam. After stumbling last spring with state legislators, who rejected a variety of funding proposals, the board worked with its boss, Mayor Richard M. Daley, to tap the city’s financial resources. In a first, the city will sell bonds to raise another $800 million for school construction projects.

Architects have their say

“The architects you mention are highly qualified and respected in the city, but one question is, What’s going to happen in the year 2020 or 2030, when the school-age population declines? What are we going to do with these buildings? It would be nice if the Chicago public schools or some other large system had the resources to take it upon themselves to ask that kind of question, but they don’t have the time or the resources. They are just bailing water as fast as they can. … [That said], the new buildings are clean and the [designs] are somewhat sophisticated.”

New-school prototype: Not a Ferrari, but it runs

Designing by the numbers:

With dozens of severely overcrowded schools and an enormous, decades-old backlog of repairs, the School Reform Board is trying to stretch its capital improvement money as far as possible as quickly as possible. For new schools and additions, that means prototype designs. By hewing to a standard design that is adapted for each site, the board hopes to complete new structures in a maximum of 14 months and save tens of millions of dollars through bulk purchases. According to Martin, millions of dollars have been saved in the bulk purchase of steel alone.

Overdue help for principal selection

Until now, councils have had no hard data on candidates to consider. Not surprisingly, they overwhelmingly have chosen people they know—assistant principals or teachers from their own schools. That’s not necessarily bad, but as Beverly Tunney, head of the principals’ association, notes in the Opinions section this month, “Very often, very qualified [candidates] are never chosen because they never get the opportunity to interview.” School districts where superintendents pick principals have found that assessment centers opened doors for candidates outside the old boys’ network. The center being organized by the Financial and Research Advisory Committee promises to do the same for Chicago’s version of who-you-know. Principals are pivotal to school improvement. Helping councils select outstanding ones is one of the most important investments the school system and reform community can make.