Keeping Chicago’s Best Leaders Where We Need Them Most – in Our Schools

By Heather Y. Anichini, CEO of The Chicago Public Education Fund

Research on successful, enduring organizations is clear: strong leadership is required.

Public schools are no different. Principals shape the culture, expectations and learning environment in schools, and they build relationships with students, teachers and communities to meet the demands of our 21st Century. In Chicago, public school principals also have the ability to choose their own staff members and control a growing share of the district’s budget – two benefits leaders in other cities don’t have.

In the nonprofit and corporate sectors, top leaders are offered professional development opportunities with an eye toward retention and succession planning. In public education, especially during times of resource constraint, these opportunities are not always prioritized.

Not surprisingly, then, principals leave – often without clear succession plans in place. 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. Many factors impact those numbers, but principals repeatedly say that differentiated professional development opportunities would increase their job satisfaction and keep them longer in the schools that need them the most.

The Fund is proud to support two unique Fellowship programs to help ensure that Chicago principals are able to grow and stay in their roles as school leaders.

This year, we are expanding Chicago’s presence in the national Cahn Fellows Program and partnering with Crown Family Philanthropies to expand the local Chicago Principals Fellowship. Together, more than a half a million dollars in grants will ensure that these two programs serve 33 top principals from across the city, including principals who lead district-managed and charter schools at the elementary and high schools levels. (Check here for insights from a Chicago Principals Fellow and a Cahn Fellow.)

Participants in both programs commit to continuing to lead within Chicago’s public schools following their participation in the programs.

Of course, there’s more that we can all do to ensure our city’s top principals stay in Chicago – we can learn from other organizations that keep top talent, and encourage communities and others supporting schools to actively work to keep great principals where they are. In fact, our 2015 School Leadership Report offered four practical ways we can all work to support principal retention in our schools.

I’ll hope you’ll join me, both in congratulating this year’s Fellows, and in supporting our city’s best leaders as they work hard to succeed and stay.