Keeping Chicago's Top Principals:

A Look Back, The Path Forward

In 2015, The Fund conducted a survey of all of Chicago’s public school principals. Based on survey results from 423 principals citywide, our 2015 School Leadership Report outlined four recommendations for how Chicago might keep more of its top principals.
With coordinated effort, the city has made progress, positively impacting hundreds of thousands of K-12 public school students in the 2015-16 school year.
2016 survey results from 482 principals citywide offer insights on the work that remains if we hope to make Chicago the best city in America to lead a public school.

Why Does Retention Matter?

No great public school exists without great leadership.

Source: Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago.

More experienced principals tend to see better outcomes, especially through year four.

Sources: School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP), 5Essentials Survey and principal evaluation data for CPS district schools in the 2014-15 school year.

Only 56% of newly-hired Chicago principals stay for the start
of their fifth year.

Source: CPS data for the 2007-08 school year through the 2014-15 school year. Aggregate of principal cohorts from district schools.




What Motivates Principals to Stay?

Executive Summary

Despite serious challenges in the 2015-16 school year, 545 of 664 principals stayed in Chicago’s public schools through the start of the 2016-17 school year.

SATISFIED WITH ROLE

On the 2016 Principal Engagement Survey, 69 percent of respondents report they are satisfied with their jobs. On the 2015 Principal Engagement Survey, 75 percent of respondents reported they are satisfied with their jobs.

MIGHT LEAVE SOON

Still, 20 percent of principal respondents report they are considering a new job in the next year. And, 50 percent of respondents with at least one year of experience report that they are less satisfied than a year ago.

WANT TO SHAPE POLICY

There’s good reason to invest in keeping top principals; 69 percent of respondents say they would stay longer if conditions were ideal, and 78 percent of respondents report a desire to shape citywide policies that impact their work.

Tell us about how you can help.

Learn more about the annual Principal Engagement Survey.

A Look Back, The Path Forward

1. Get out of their way.

In 2015, more than 70 percent of principal respondents said limiting compliance burdens would improve their job satisfaction. A year later, reducing compliance remains the number one way to increase principal satisfaction.

Name of Person
Autonomy In Action

Jo Easterling-Hood

McDowell Elementary School

Limit Compliance Reminders for District Schools:

CPS will modify its dashboard to allow district principals to self-monitor activities like attendance reporting, limiting compliance-related emails and duplicate requests.

Streamline Charter School Compliance:

CPS will streamline charter-specific compliance requirements based on an annual calendar, increasing transparency for charter principals around the timing of critical deadlines and limiting last-minute requests.

Build Direct Data Feeds:

CPS will pursue links to data from other city agencies, eliminating double reporting for documents like student health forms.


Data note: In both 2015 and 2016, principals ranked ways to increase their job satisfaction. In 2016, 58 percent of principal respondents rank reducing compliance among their top four choices. This represents a decrease from 70 percent of principal respondents who ranked it among their top three choices last year. Compliance remains the top-ranked issue among principal respondents.

Reducing the Required Number of Teacher Observations:

CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) agreed on a teacher contract that requires fewer formal observations, decreasing principals' paperwork and enabling more instructional support between observation cycles.


Data note: In both 2015 and 2016, principals ranked ways to increase their job satisfaction. In 2016, 58 percent of principal respondents rank reducing compliance among their top four choices. This represents a decrease from 70 percent of principal respondents who ranked it among their top three choices last year. Compliance remains the top-ranked issue among principal respondents.

Expanded the Independent Schools Principal (ISP) Program:

CPS doubled the ISP footprint and improved programming based on input from 2015-16 school year participants.

Updated the Principal Handbook:

CPS redesigned its online Principal Handbook, with the aim of improving access to critical information on policies and procedures that directly impact schools and their leaders.

Streamlined Communications:

CPS established new communications protocols for principal outreach, with the goal of making compliance demands clearer and more predictable for principals.


Data note: In both 2015 and 2016, principals ranked ways to increase their job satisfaction. In 2016, 58 percent of principal respondents rank reducing compliance among their top four choices. This represents a decrease from 70 percent of principal respondents who ranked it among their top three choices last year. Compliance remains the top-ranked issue among principal respondents.

2. Help them leverage the tools they already have.

Last year, 40 percent or more of principal respondents said additional budgeting, scheduling and curriculum supports would positively impact their work. This year, principal respondents report a need for continued help, including additional tools to support teacher coaching.

Name of Person
Tools In Action

Mariel Laureano

Prieto Academy Elementary School

Add Expertise to Support Special Education Instruction:

CPS will use citywide evaluators to provide ratings, feedback and coaching to teachers responsible for special education, increasing supports for improved instruction.

Secure Reliable State Funding:

CPS, in collaboration with stakeholders citywide, will continue to advocate for reliable state funding for public education, providing principals with needed resources to support student learning, especially in high-need schools.

Release Budgets Earlier:

CPS will work to release budgets as early as possible, increasing transparency and enabling principals to access a larger pool of teacher talent, while ensuring adequate time to acquire the instructional resources that support student learning.

Increase Charter Access to Data:

Charter partners and CPS will investigate how to ensure charter school principals have real-time access to their school-specific student data, increasing their ability to positively impact student outcomes.

Publish Common Core Brief:

The Fund will release a brief outlining promising practices related to implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Chicago.


Data note: In both 2015 and 2016, principals identified the professional development opportunities and supports that would positively impact their work. Among their top four choices in 2016, 44 percent of principal respondents note coaching teachers in specific subject areas, and 43 percent note implementing professional learning effectively.

Testing Hiring Tools and Supports:

CPS is piloting new resources, such as workshops and video interviews, helping principals identify teachers best-suited to serve their students.

Modifying the Principal Evaluation Process:

CPS is piloting modified principal evaluations focused on ongoing feedback conversations, decreasing time spent on paperwork and increasing peer-to-peer learning among top principals.

Implementing Common Core Supports:

CPS is continuing Common Core implementation in all schools, supporting educators with new tools for rigorous instruction.


Data note: In both 2015 and 2016, principals identified the professional development opportunities and supports that would positively impact their work. Among their top four choices in 2016, 44 percent of principal respondents note coaching teachers in specific subject areas, and 43 percent note implementing professional learning effectively.

Shared Teacher Evaluations Earlier:

CPS released preliminary and final teacher evaluation data to principals and teachers three months earlier than last year, helping principals and their instructional teams to make more informed decisions sooner.

Provided Innovative Scheduling Supports:

Sensible Innovation helped school leaders rethink their use of time and resources, providing the tools and expertise to redesign their schedules.

Released Voices from the Field:

The Fund released a brief about teacher evaluation and hosted a collaborative workshop, allowing educators to co-design strategies to improve instructional observation and practice.

Decreased Centralized Spending:

CPS increased the share of the total operating budget allocated directly to principals on a per-pupil basis from around 40 percent to around 50 percent, reducing centralized control over some school resources.


Data note: In both 2015 and 2016, principals identified the professional development opportunities and supports that would positively impact their work. Among their top four choices in 2016, 44 percent of principal respondents note coaching teachers in specific subject areas, and 43 percent note implementing professional learning effectively.

3. Support their individual development.

A year ago, 56 percent of principal respondents said they received regular feedback from their immediate managers to improve their practice. Now, more principal respondents report receiving this kind of coaching and support.

Name of Person
Support In Action

LeViis Haney

Lovett Elementary School

Refine the Role of Principal Supervisors:

CPS will refine the role of principal supervisors for district schools, growing supervisor impact on principal development and retention.

Establish Opportunities for Peer Learning:

The Chicago Principal and Administrators Association (CPAA) will offer professional learning opportunities through its principal-led policy research and advocacy work and expand its Illinois Administrator Academy course offerings, allowing sitting CPS principals and assistant principals to facilitate peer-learning.

Create Opportunities for Citywide Learning:

Charter partners and the CPS Office of Network Support will work to identify opportunities for joint professional development on topics such as special education, allowing charter principals increased access to timely and relevant professional learning in collaboration with their peers.

Create a Professional Development Map:

Local nonprofits will document the breadth of professional learning available to principals across the city, empowering principals to make informed decisions about high-impact, cost-effective leadership development opportunities.


Data note: In both 2015 and 2016, the survey asked principals if they received regular feedback from their immediate manager to improve their practice. In 2016, 62 percent of principal respondents agree that they receive feedback that improves practice, up from 56 percent in 2015.

Continuing Support to Improve High Schools:

CPS, in partnership with Network for College Success and the College Board, is conducting quarterly high school institutes, enabling high school principals to develop sustainable systems for student success based on work piloted with the UChicago Consortium on School Research and UChicago Impact during the 2015-16 school year.

Expanding Professional Development Supports:

The Fund is piloting and expanding several promising professional development opportunities for principals, including one-on-one coaching, the fourth cohort of the Summer Design Program and principal-led Principal Professional Learning Communities, improving principal quality citywide.


Data note: In both 2015 and 2016, the survey asked principals if they received regular feedback from their immediate manager to improve their practice. In 2016, 62 percent of principal respondents agree that they receive feedback that improves practice, up from 56 percent in 2015.

Increased Training for Principal Supervisors:

The University of Illinois at Chicago worked with CPS principal supervisors to develop their management skills, ensuring more principals received the feedback they needed to improve practice.

Expanded Access to National Opportunities:

The Fund increased our investment in nationally-recognized leadership development opportunities, such as the Cahn Fellowship, and provided principals with the chance to share best practices at conferences such as ASU-GSV and the Council of Great City Schools, supporting principals’ development in exciting new areas.


Data note: In both 2015 and 2016, the survey asked principals if they received regular feedback from their immediate manager to improve their practice. In 2016, 62 percent of principal respondents agree that they receive feedback that improves practice, up from 56 percent in 2015.

4. Challenge them to stay.

On the last survey, 25 percent of principal respondents said they planned to leave within a year. Despite a challenging climate, fewer principal respondents report they plan to leave in the year ahead.

Name of Person
Retention In Action

Barton Dassinger

Chávez Elementary School

Invest More in Our Best Principals:

The Fund will identify and examine new investments, such as programming through the Harvard Graduate School of Education, bringing national expertise and research together to support top principals in new ways.

Engage Principals Early:

CPS will establish regular engagement opportunities throughout the school year, including the expansion of current efforts like the Principal Advisory Committee, allowing principals the opportunity to shape policy.

Increase Recognition:

Nonprofit partners from across the city, with support from the business and philanthropic communities, will devise creative ways to recognize and retain top principals, demonstrating our shared appreciation for their leadership.

Improve Ability to Predict Retention Risk:

The Fund, along with CPS, charter partners and other nonprofits, will use historical data to better predict principals at risk of departure, helping to target retention efforts and enabling more effective succession planning when transition does occur.


Data note: In both 2015 and 2016, principals indicated when they might choose to look for a new position. In 2016, 20 percent of principal respondents said they plan to do so within a year, down from 25 percent in 2015.

Revising Compensation:

CPS will begin working with principals to revisit principal compensation structures, helping keep top principals in the schools that need them most.

Including Principal Voice in Policy Discussions:

The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA) is establishing principal-led policy research and advocacy groups on topics including school accountability, school funding and budgeting, special education regulations and professional development; providing principals with an avenue to influence policies that directly impact their work.


Data note: In both 2015 and 2016, principals indicated when they might choose to look for a new position. In 2016, 20 percent of principal respondents said they plan to do so within a year, down from 25 percent in 2015.

Diversified the Chicago Principals Fellowship:

Northwestern University, with the support of The Fund and the Crown Family, launched the third cohort of the Fellowship, increasing the size of the cohort and expanding participation among charter school principals.

Selected Breakthrough Schools: Chicago Winners:

LEAP Innovations announced the second Breakthrough Schools Chicago cohort, growing the number of top principals in Chicago receiving support to transform student learning.


Data note: In both 2015 and 2016, principals indicated when they might choose to look for a new position. In 2016, 20 percent of principal respondents said they plan to do so within a year, down from 25 percent in 2015.

What’s Next?

Around 20 percent of principal respondents report they are considering a new job in the next year. History says we should believe them: Chicago loses up to 20 percent of its principals every year.

There is no one-year fix to this problem.

We hope this progress report highlights the important work of those already committed to strong principals in every public school. We acknowledge that the data make clear the need to do much more.

For our part, The Fund will publish this progress report annually to showcase past progress and spotlight future areas for improvement.

This year, we will also release a report in November that connects principal hiring practices to principal retention challenges. The report also provides recommendations for more successful principal placement in all of Chicago’s public schools.

We hope you will join us in supporting principal retention citywide. You can start by sending us information about how you’re working to keep the city’s best principals and by sharing other professional supports you think are positively impacting principals in Chicago today.

It takes a city to keep a strong principal in every public school.

Autonomy In Action
Jo Easterling-Hood

20 Years as Principal

McDowell Elementary School

Independent Schools Principal

Grades Served PreK-5
Students Served 183
CPS Level Level 2+
Demographics 95.1% African American
82.0% Low Income
Neighborhood Calumet Heights

Source: CPS school data for 2015-16 school year.

“Becoming more autonomous will provide me with more opportunities to tailor instruction to my students’ needs.”

As she entered her 19th year as principal of McDowell Elementary School, Dr. Jo Easterling-Hood was looking for a challenge. While McDowell had above average reading attainment, Jo wanted the flexibility to better support her teachers’ exploration of technology-driven, personalized instruction for every student. Always looking to learn from her colleagues, she also wanted the opportunity to work directly with other principals across the city who were implementing innovative models in their schools.

That opportunity arose when CPS announced the expansion of the Independent Schools Principal (ISP) program in 2016. The ISP program launched in 2015 to provide experienced, high-performing principals with the autonomy to operate their schools with less oversight from Central Office and the flexibility to innovate in their schools.

With the program’s expansion, Jo joins nearly 50 other high-performing principals from across the city. “As a veteran principal, I am ready to prove that anything is possible here at McDowell,” Jo said. “The new autonomy we will receive through the ISP program will enable my talented teaching team to implement innovative curricula tailored to each student in a technology-rich and collaborative environment.”

Jo and her instructional team hope to use ISP as an opportunity to explore new ways of teaching and learning. She also looks forward to learning from her peers in the ISP program through its unique peer-to-peer professional learning community.

Jo and her ISP colleagues exemplify the ways in which high-performing principals can leverage increased autonomy and flexibility to pursue and create transformative learning experiences for their students.

Tools In Action
Mariel Laureano

8 Years as Principal

Prieto Academy Elementary School

REACH

Grades Served PreK-8
Students Served 1,051
CPS Level Level 1
Demographics 95.7% Hispanic
92.7% Low Income
Neighborhood Belmont-Cragin

Source: CPS school data for 2015-16 school year.

“Leveraging lesson study to complete teacher evaluations drives efficiency and creates an opportunity to stay deeply engaged in instructional work.”

Mariel Laureano began her fourth year as principal of Prieto Academy just as CPS launched its new teacher evaluation system, Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago Students (REACH), in 2012. REACH is designed to strengthen the continuous instructional improvement process and to accelerate student learning in all of Chicago’s district schools.

For principals like Mariel, REACH was a welcome departure from the previous checklist system. Nonetheless, with more than 164 observations to complete, Mariel needed an efficient way to conduct observations without shortchanging the individual needs of her 65 teachers.

Mariel’s solution was to align Lesson Study to the formal observation cycle. Lesson Study is a long-term professional learning strategy in which teacher teams collectively research and refine individual lessons to improve their practice and better meet student learning needs.

As Mariel explained in conversations that informed our REACH brief: “Aligning Lesson Study to the observation cycle allows me to conduct multiple observations while building trust and providing my teachers with the feedback necessary to improve their practice.”

In fact, Prieto is improving student performance in math and reading faster than the national average; just one indication of the quality teaching and learning experienced by more than 1,000 students who attend Prieto each day.

The story of Prieto is one example of the instructional improvements possible when we help principals leverage tools like REACH effectively in their schools.




Support In Action
LeViis Haney

5 Years as Principal

Lovett Elementary School

Network Differentiation

Grades Served PreK-8
Students Served 424
CPS Level Level 1+
Demographics 84.4% African American
85.4% Low Income
Neighborhood Austin

Source: CPS school data for 2015-16 school year.

“Building systems for student success is a thrill, and I have a tremendous amount of support from my Network Chief. He’s been incredible in supporting me and supporting us in this work.”

Dr. LeViis Haney was in his fourth year leading the 424 students at Lovett Elementary School when he and his team decided they wanted to do something radical: They wanted to introduce an innovative personalized learning approach in their traditional public school.

“We weren’t where we wanted to be in terms of student attainment, and our discipline challenges were real.” LeViis explained. “We wanted an approach that shifted the instructional model from teacher-driven to student-centered because we thought it would improve our overall school culture, while improving our academic outcomes.”

But LeViis knew he couldn’t do it alone. Fortunately, LeViis’ supervisor Randel Josserand, in his third year as Network 3 Chief of Schools, immediately stepped up to enable the transformation proposed by LeViis and his team. Among other supports, Randel encouraged Lovett’s engagement with the LEAP Innovations Pilot Network and The Fund’s Summer Design Program.

He enthusiastically reinforced the team’s ambitions to become a Breakthrough School, and stood by LeViis’ side when Lovett was awarded one of seven spots in the competitive program in the spring of 2016. LeViis explains that Randel’s help is “always thoughtful” and targeted to each principal with whom he works. In fact, this type of individualized support helped Lovett reach Level 1+ status in the 2016-17 school year, due to strong student growth in reading and math.

“LeViis’ approach at Lovett isn’t the right one for every principal in every one of the 26 schools in Network 3,” Randel said. “A big part of my job is to figure out what is right for each of them and to provide the support that will help them live up to their full potential. The 20,000 students in our Network deserve and depend on it.”

Retention In Action
Barton Dassinger

11 Years as Principal

Chávez Elementary School

Citywide Impact

Grades Served PreK-8
Students Served 983
CPS Level Level 1+
Demographics 94.1% Hispanic
95.5% Low Income
Neighborhood Back of the Yards

Source: CPS school data for 2015-16 school year.

“Helping other principals implement what we know works at Chávez motivates me to continue to lead and stay.”

In his eight years leading Chávez Elementary School, principal Barton Dassinger and his team have transformed the learning experience for thousands of low-income students. Using an extended day and personalized learning, the educators and students at Chávez have defied the statistics – last year’s graduating class saw 78 percent of eighth graders performing at or above grade level in mathematics as they entered high school, a critical step toward college and career success.

Barton’s success means he is regularly recruited, both to consider Central Office positions in CPS and to lead schools and systems in other parts of the country. He remains in his role at Chávez because he is able to impact students directly – at his school and beyond. An example of his expanded impact was recently highlighted in Catalyst Chicago. Several years ago, Barton created a dashboard that tracks individual student learning in reading and math.

Barton estimates he has informally shared the approach with over 50 principals in Chicago and beyond, and he will lead a Professional Learning Community to formalize the tool and share the process in the fall of 2016. Barton is also partnering with CPS to build an impact tracker, similar to his Chávez dashboard, that will work at the district level.

Not surprisingly, he is regularly recognized for his work. Chávez is a Breakthrough School and receives grant support from various local and national organizations including Communities in Schools, the UChicago Success Project and Summit Public Schools Basecamp. Barton is also an alumnus of the Chicago Principals Fellowship and an Independent Schools Principal.

Talented principals like Barton have many options. As a city, we have to continue to find ways to recognize, inspire and grow the impact of these talented leaders, and to encourage them to remain in the schools that need them most.

ABOUT THIS PROGRESS REPORT

This progress report is based upon recommendations outlined in Chicago’s Fight to Keep Top Principals, published in November 2015. The featured initiatives are representative of broader efforts across Chicago to better retain principals, but are not exhaustive. We encourage you to provide feedback and to share professional development opportunities to help us better reflect the breadth of principal support citywide.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We would like to thank the entire Fund team, especially Ariela Abrevaya, Anne Filer, Nelson Gerew and Ashley Richardson for their contributions to this report. We also want to acknowledge the work of our Summer Fellows, Ezgi Ihlan and Hailey Oliff, who conducted the principal interviews in the featured video.

We are especially grateful to the principals and partners who shared their stories and experiences in the blog posts, video and vignettes featured throughout the progress report.

Additionally, we would like to thank our partners at Chicago Public Schools, including the Department of Principal Quality, the Office of Network Support, the Chief Education Office, the Office of Innovation and Incubation, and the Talent Office. We also want to thank the Chicago Principal and Administrators Association, our charter partners and our Educator Advisory Committee for their thoughtful feedback throughout this process.