October 20, 2017 Blog, Community

Refining School Leader Compensation: One Principal’s Perspective on Policy Work

Note from The Fund team: Today’s post is guest authored by Jeremy Feiwell, Principal of Cárdenas Elementary School and Castellanos Elementary School. 


As a veteran principal now entering my 12th year leading Cárdenas Elementary School and my first year leading Castellanos Elementary School in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, I am always looking for new ways to contribute to my community.

Seeking to better understand how decisions are made around key policy issues and take an active role in this work, I leapt at the opportunity to work side-by-side with my principal peers on a Working Committee charged with designing a new compensation structure for school leaders in Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

Between January and May 2017, our Working Committee – comprised of 20 principals and assistant principals (APs) from a variety of experience levels, school types and school demographics – met 10 times and engaged deeply on this critical issue.

The result? CPS listened to our recommendations, and announced a new compensation system for principals and APs in district-operated schools earlier this month, signaling the importance of recognizing and rewarding the merits of principals and APs across the city of Chicago.

In reflecting on our work, I appreciated that, from the beginning, our committee was clear on goals and objectives: We aimed to recognize the hard work of principals, to ensure we keep strong leaders, and to encourage more talented educators to aspire to the principalship.

With tight coordination between CPS and The Fund, we accomplished our goals through a collaborative, data-informed process:

  • First, we sought to understand the current context of administrators within CPS and districts similar to CPS, reviewing salary structures in similarly large urban school districts nationwide and suburban districts surrounding Chicago.
  • Next, we identified the key factors impacting compensation.
  • Then, we developed a framework for principal and AP compensation.
  • Finally, we discussed non-compensation factors, considering  other factors that are important to school leaders, such as professional development opportunities and travel costs reimbursements.

I attribute the success of our work to three levers:

  • Defined parameters, excellent planning and trust: We had aligned goals and expectations for each meeting. Crucially, district leadership valued our ideas throughout the process and empowered us to lead the work.
  • A shared voice amongst the committee members: In policy work, solutions are built on compromise. Principals from all sorts of schools came together and had an equal opportunity to share their perspective on the new system. The diverse opinions and ideas represented were completely respected and acknowledged.
  • Data-informed decision-making: Our discussions were always grounded in data, which allowed us to clearly understand the impact of our recommendations.

The Committee worked hard to develop a system that benefits principals and APs in all district-operated schools. I am proud of what we accomplished and am confident that we are on track to better acknowledge the hard work and efforts of our outstanding school leaders.