There is no city like Chicago, and there is no school district like Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Chicago outsizes most school districts ranking third in student enrollment serving around 400,000 students. Second, Chicago as a district is so large it is broken down into 13 geographic networks. Third, Chicago is the only school district with Local Schools Councils with parents, community members and staff managing individual schools.
The uniqueness of CPS makes principalship in Chicago different than anywhere else.
Principal Lauren Albani of Lasalle II Magnet School attended a conference over the summer with principals from all over the nation. She said, “We are so big that we are unique. There were some principles that were in a district with eight schools. It’s completely different mindset when you’re dealing with 600 schools and a central office… it’s not even in the same realm of understanding.”
Principals working in CPS have more responsibility and autonomy than in other districts. Principal Joanne Tanner of UCSN Fuentes said, “It is all so rewarding having the autonomy and the selectability in terms of how I want to run my school and what I want my schedule to look like and what I want on the wall.”
After working in Washington, D.C. for several years, Principal Nicole Milberg of Mitchell Elementary came to Chicago because “the district was reform-minded.” There is room for principals to innovate in regards to instruction and programming. Many principals take advantage of the city itself. According to Principal Anna Pavichevich of Amundsen High School, “Chicago is a great social and cultural resource” that she uses to establish local partnerships and to expose her students to city-wide diversity.
Principal Jennifer Reid of Rauner College Prep and Principal Melissa Sweazy of UCSN Santiago see a difference in Chicago students. Jennifer said, “Our children are very different. They are a lot more resilient than what I have experienced in the past.” As a result, teachers and principals are always considering students’ backgrounds and home experiences.
Principals in the district have faced many challenges over the past few years, but this perseverance has made them stronger. Principal Ricardo Trujillo of James Monroe Elementary explained, “I think particularly in Chicago we have weathered some pretty tough times. Those of us who are staying are staying because we have a passion for urban education. There are a lot of my colleagues that see this as a cause and a mission and we have become much better leaders because of the challenges we have had to face in the last couple of years.”