Chicago Leads

A $50 million effort to power progress in Chicago’s public schools by investing in the talented educators who lead them.


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The future of schools is evolving.

The time for bold leadership is now.

We envision a public school system where all of Chicago’s students have access to strong, stable school leadership. Today, achieving that vision is more important than ever before.

Why Leadership?

More than 25 years of data connects student learning to strong school leadership. Motivated by that research, The Fund team has partnered with exceptional educators, civic leaders, and the philanthropic community to redefine what it means to lead a public school. For more than two decades, our advocacy has helped ensure that Chicago’s principals have more control over budget, curriculum, and staffing decisions than their peers in other major cities.

Why Chicago?

Chicago is one of the best cities in the nation for strong principals. The 5Essentials is a research-based measure used by every school district in the state and published by the Illinois State Board of Education. Using this measure, we know Chicago’s principals are more likely to be strong or very strong, when compared to their peers across the state.

We know students in schools with strong leaders learn more. Prior to COVID-19, Stanford University researchers found that students in Chicago were learning six years of content in five years of school. That’s a whole extra year of learning! This finding was validated by national tests, where Chicago’s elementary students gained almost three times the national average.

Why Now?

NAEP behind

The connection between strong leadership and student learning is clear. COVID-19 made learning – especially for Latino/a/x and Black students – challenging. Data show students like those served in Chicago’s public schools started the 2022-23 school year between three to nine months behind similar students before the pandemic.

From now through 2030, Chicago Leads will enable The Fund team to invest $50 million in Chicago’s strongest aspiring, developing, and veteran principals. Our support will foster innovative leadership in more than 600 school communities and contribute to an enduring culture of excellence citywide.

School Year Instruction

Leverage Our Strengths

We invest in data-driven strategies that increase the number of strong leaders in Chicago’s public schools. Our program, policy, and partnership efforts are designed to meet leaders where they are, to accelerate their growth, and to enable their retention. Through Chicago Leads, we will directly serve more than 300 educators a year and invest in policy changes that positively impact leaders citywide.

“In my time as a school leader, what has become clear is that large change happens in small structures.”

-Principal Jennifer Dixon
Palmer Elementary School

Launch bold ideas.

Every day, our talented principal partners innovate and discover new ways to advance educational opportunities for their students. Through Chicago Leads, we will amplify their voices and harness their talent to reimagine public education in Chicago.

The Fund Chicago

Lead with our values.

The Fund is committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism in all our work. We are a trusted partner of Chicago’s district, charter, philanthropic, and civic communities. Through Chicago Leads, we will raise dollars efficiently and invest resources strategically and transparently.

Our Goals

In partnership with educators and Chicago Public Schools (CPS), we are advancing big ideas as a part of Chicago Leads.

We are doubling down on the programs that we know develop strong leaders, and that help them innovate and stay.

We are expanding our policy work to catalyze and advance new ideas, especially around leadership pipeline and transition.

We are sharing the practices that make Chicago a great city for school leadership with partners nationwide.

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Now through 2030, we will:

Grow innovative programs that strengthen leadership.

We will continue to serve more than 300 educators a year through our programming, unlocking school-level innovation and fueling strong teaching and learning.

Diversify and strengthen the principal leadership pipeline.

We will provide tangible resources – from financial support to mentorship – that remove barriers for strong teachers who want to pursue the principalship, with an emphasis on supporting strong Black and Latino/a/x leaders.
Chicago Leads Goal: Increase the number of strong Black male and Latino/a/x principals by 40%.

Promote long-term stability for school communities.

We will lengthen average principal tenure by one year and support managed leadership transitions, ensuring students and educators continue to thrive.
Chicago Leads Goals: Grow tenure from 5.8 to 6.8 years and introduce a transition-readiness indicator.

Our Goals

Featured Example

Strong Leaders Change Lives

Luke F

A proud CPS alumna, Nicole Luke is the Assistant Principal (AP) of North-Grand High School. Through The Fund’s SDP, AP Luke and her team analyzed student surveys and academic data to expose inequities in learning. Through empathy interviews with their priority group, AP Luke and her team realized that students craved more culturally relevant learning experiences. In response, they developed a plan to increase these opportunities.

North Grand Map

Apply This Learning

Apply learning north grand

Our Impact

Our programs make leaders stronger and our policy efforts keep them in their role longer.

For more than two decades, The Fund has remained a stabilizing force for school leaders amidst change.
We have partnered with 11 CPS CEOs, three mayors, and countless educators, all while maintaining a focus
on strong leadership in schools. Our data-informed approach helps us change conditions for principals,
and we continue to build on our strengths as a strategic partner to stakeholders citywide.

Fund 1


$10 Million

5% of Chicago principals participated

Fund 1 established a higher bar of quality for teachers and principals through seed investments in organizations that recruit, train, and support talented leaders for Chicago's public schools.

Fund 2


$15 Million

15% of Chicago principals participated

Fund 2 expanded the number of talented educators in Chicago’s schools through investments in new certification and leadership development programs.

Fund 3


$20 Million

25% of Chicago principals participated

Fund 3 aligned evaluation systems for teachers, principals, and schools through initiatives that highlighted the impact of strong leadership.

Fund 4


$25 Million

50% of Chicago principals participated

Fund 4 more than doubled the number of strong Chicago principals through program and policy investments that unlocked educator innovation and retained top talent.

Fund 5


$25 Million

70% of Chicago principals participated

Fund 5 deepened and broadened the commitment to leadership; we launched both a local collaborative and a national community of practice focused on principals, while helping 630+ leaders in Chicago navigate the pandemic.

Get Involved

We envision a public school system where all of Chicago’s students have access to strong, stable school leadership. Making this vision a reality requires all of us working together. 

The Fund’s independent Board of Directors and nimble investment model allow us to positively influence educator quality citywide. More than 80% of our funding is general operating, meaning funders give dollars to be used where they are needed most. In turn, The Fund is transparent about where those dollars go and the impact that they have. 

Your support – alongside investment from philanthropic, civic, and corporate communities – will ensure more schools are led by strong, diverse leaders with the resources they need to inspire transformative education.

Investors in this work

We are grateful for the generous supporters of the Chicago Leads campaign:

Crown Family Philanthropies
Finnegan Foundation
Jim Frank
Brent & Katie Gledhill
Ken Griffin
Hobson Lucas Family Foundation
IMC Charitable Foundation
Joyce Foundation
Malott Family Foundation
McCormick Foundation
Zell Family Foundation

A complete list of funders can be found here, and donor resources are available here.

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