Chicago Public School Principals Will Get Help to Meet Performance Criteria

Published April 1, 2007

On January 24 the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education unanimously approved a new policy that gives struggling principals about a year to improve before facing corrective action or dismissal.

The policy outlines a two-tiered system of support and remediation for approximately 500 contract principals, who are locked into four-year contracts with CPS. Previously, no procedure existed to help underperforming principals improve.

Under the first tier, an area supervisor–an experienced principal who oversees the administrators at as many as 40 schools–would place the principal on a “direct assistance plan” (DAP), which gives the principal benchmarks for improvement and support in deficient areas for nine to 12 months. If the principal does not improve in the designated timeframe, he or she faces a “corrective action plan” (CAP) and has another four to six months to improve.

If both plans fail to spark improvement, the principal may be fired.

Heated Conversations

The policy grew out of heated but collaborative conversations that began early in 2006 between the CPS Board of Education and the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, explained Clarice Berry, the association’s president.

Berry said her organization was concerned about the board’s growing tendency to put principals on corrective action without offering them support or time to improve. Furthermore, she said, the corrective action plans were issued inconsistently across the large district. The association spoke up in January 2006, and the board added the direct assistance plans.

When asked if the education establishment should mimic the business world, where poor performers face the boot without such extended opportunities for improvement, Berry said no.

“People sometimes need guidance to improve,” Berry said, adding that the corrective action plans come with public humiliation: The board publishes the names of problematic principals in a public board report.

“If someone starts out helping you by humiliating you, I doubt that person would be able to help you improve. Is this a remediation process or not?” Berry asked.

Working Plan

In the 2005-06 school year, 18 principals faced corrective action, said Michael Vaughn, spokesman for the Chicago Public Schools. Of those 18, four are no longer with the district because they retired, resigned, or were removed. Ten came off of corrective action plans. The remaining four are still employed by the district and are still on corrective action plans.

“The area officer likely saw enough signs of improvement to keep working with these principals, but not enough to feel comfortable recommending that the principal come off corrective action,” Vaughn said.

Critics say the new policy gives area officers too much power, and local school councils–comprised of parents, teachers, and community members–too little. Under state law, local school councils are responsible for hiring and evaluating contract principals, though area officers are the only ones who can put a principal on corrective action. The councils also guide spending and school improvement projects.

“That’s the challenge of being a principal,” said Maggie Blinn, deputy chief officer of the district’s Office of Principal Preparation and Development. “Parents, students, councils, area officers–principals have a lot of constituents.”

Removals Rare

Blinn said her office works hard to ensure each of the district’s 600 schools has a high-quality principal and a strong pool of candidates.

“We hope that principal removals are few and far between,” Blinn said. “We look at this remediation policy as much more supportive than it was before.”

Hilary Masell Oswald ([email protected]) writes from Evanston, Illinois.