Leadership from top to bottom

By the time this issue of Catalyst In Depth reaches our readers, the dust will have settled on the city’s first teachers strike in 25 years. Daily picketing will be over, children will be back in school, misleading radio and TV ads will be off the airwaves and the overheated bluster and rhetoric about lazy teachers and greedy unions will, with any luck, be replaced by more rational discourse from cooler heads. But an equally contentious fight over school closings is on the horizon.

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A pipeline for principals

Burke Elementary Principal Jessica Biggs, a graduate of the Teach for America Principal Leadership Pipeline, checks in with kindergarten through 2nd-grade students during recess.  [Photo by Marc Monaghan]

Despite a shrinking number of schools and hundreds of candidates already trained, the district says it needs more top-notch principals and plans to make the eligibility process tougher and spend $10 million to improve principal preparation programs. 

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Turning the page

Clemente High School Principal Marcey Sorensen meets with staff about the school’s Safe Passage program. Improving school culture and climate is a key focus in her effort to improve Clemente.  [Photo byJoe Gallo]

On the first day of school at Clemente High, about 120 more students show up than expected. It’s an early victory and a good start to the year for second-year principal Marcey Sorensen. “We hope word is getting out that it’s a good place to be,” she says.

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The turnaround test

Doug Maclin took over Chicago Vocational Career Academy in August 2011. A few months later, he was told the school was slated to become a turnaround. Typically, principals are fired when schools are turned around, but Maclin reapplied for his job and kept it.  [Photo by Cristina Rutter]

Dressed in a gray suit, Doug Maclin stood behind a podium facing the panel of CPS board members, looking a bit uncomfortable. He was at the May meeting to brag about the changes he had accomplished during his short tenure as principal of Chicago Vocational Career Academy. Misconduct reports and suspensions were down. Attendance was up, to 80 percent from 68 percent. And though Maclin didn’t know it at the time, academics were on the upswing: The number of students who met or exceeded standards on the Prairie State Achievement Exam rose 2 percentage points last year, and the average ACT score increased by 0.4 points, a small but statistically significant improvement.

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