The Power of Principals: Pulling Schools Out of Probation
Every year, each Chicago public school is measured on its performance to determine academic standing. District schools are rated on criteria such as test results, course offerings, dropout rates and attendance. Principals pursue many corrective measures to improve school standing to offer the best education for their students.
We spoke to principals who inherited schools on probation and with hard work, pulled their schools out of probationary status. Upon entering James Monroe Elementary, Principal Ricardo Trujillo said, “We worked right away at isolating what are the strengths that the school has, where are the needs, where do we see ourselves going as a school, and laying out that map of how we are going to get there.”
The first step to status improvement can be change in instruction. Principal Juan Gutierrez of Patrick Henry Elementary said, “When I came in to observe it was traditional and lecture type.” Since then, Juan initiated many innovative programs around blended and personalized learning. Ricardo has also encouraged innovation and risk taking demonstrated in the math curriculum. “We knew we were gonna take a hit in performance metrics for math… [but] we did that knowing that this was going to set us up for future growth,” he said.
Along with instructional improvements, an important component to improving the school can be deeply supporting the teaching staff. Prescott Elementary’s Principal Erin Roche worked to build a staff that “cares about kids, really knows subject matter, knows how to connect kids to subject matter and collaborates with other teachers.” Principal Anna Pavichevich of Amundsen High School reorganized teachers into new teams and encouraged collaboration by creating a teacher workroom.
Another component to achieving good standing can be changing school culture. For Anna, this meant creating the typical high school experiences at Amundsen and having kids want to be at school. Erin rearranged Prescott’s culture to be more student-focused and student-centered. He explained, “Teachers really care about kids and go out of their way to check up on kids.”
Principals’ work of changing instruction, teachers and school culture is not an easy task, but has paid off in the end. Neither Amundsen, Henry, Monroe nor Prescott are in probationary status and are now all in good standing. Juan said, “We have come a long way in just the six years that I have been here. It has been fun, hard and challenging.”