Keeping Great Principals

In late 2013, we raised $20 million with the goal of increasing the number of top principals in Chicago from 150 to 350 by 2018. At that time, we believed that our core challenges were a lack of great candidates and failure to hire the very best talent into principal roles.

While it’s true that Chicago does not recruit, train or hire enough great candidates to meet the city’s needs, a larger issue quickly became apparent: Chicago’s principals are disappearing. Data indicates that while principal performance tends to increase through year four, only 56 percent of Chicago’s principals stay for the start of their fifth year. The systems that surround, support and retain principals are broken. That’s bad for our students, teachers and families.

To address this issue, we broadened our strategy. In addition to supporting quality recruitment and hiring, The Fund now also works to significantly improve the conditions in which principals lead schools.

We have a long way to go: despite high levels of general satisfaction reported in our annual Principal Engagement Surveys, principals overwhelmingly tell us that their jobs are simply unsustainable. More than 40 percent of top Chicago principals told us they plan to leave within the next three years of taking the survey; 20 percent in the next year.

Informed by principals’ own ideas,The Fund will continue leading this work to take action as a city to reverse this troubling trend. Along with members of the Donors Forum Leadership & Human Capital Group, we are renewing our call for principal leadership to be a central focus of Chicago’s education community.

To achieve our city’s shared goals for public school excellence, we must make Chicago the best city in America for school leadership. The next step on that path is keeping our top principals in their roles for longer. Equipped for the first time with details about what principals need, and with ideas on how we might work together to provide it, we believe this goal is within reach. If we are serious about providing world-class public schools for all of Chicago’s students, we must create an environment that allows our top leaders to learn, grow and stay.