“Where are your glasses, Stanley?” It’s not the type of question that 37-year-old Stanley Griggs expected when he began an in-depth principal training program at Northwestern University last summer. But then the assistant principal at Nettelhorst Elementary School didn’t expect a workshop panelist on effective school leadership to be his 4th-grade teacher from 27 years ago.
Griggs is learning once again under the wing of Jeannie Gallo, now the principal of Smyser Accelerated School and his mentor in the training program. Griggs is one of 33 aspiring principals working alongside well-respected principals or in probation schools for a one-semester internship. The group is the first to move through the three-part program of the Leadership Academy and Urban Network for Chicago (LAUNCH), which aims to equip participants with the skills effective Chicago principals use everyday.
Griggs recognized Gallo at one of the seminars in the first phase of the program, six weeks of training in June and July. “I thought, ‘That looks like my 4th-grade teacher,’ but I wasn’t sure because I never knew her first name.” Once they talked, they knew he had been in her class at Louis Armstrong School. “She remembered me, and she remembered I wore glasses,” says Griggs. “I told her I wear contacts now.”
Principals interested in serving as mentors had to submit lengthy applications to the LAUNCH program, a joint venture of the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, Northwestern University and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. Those selected participated in a two-day seminar at Northwestern that included meetings with trainees and small-group activities to highlight leadership skills. The trainees got to list several principals with whom they’d like to do their internships, which pay $35,000 for the semester. Likewise, the principals named the fellows they thought would work out well at their schools.
“We tried to make the best match for each individual,” says LAUNCH Executive Director Ingrid Carney.
The first day of the internship, Gallo asked Griggs to hire a special education teacher for the school. He reviewed resumes, interviewed several candidates and hired one. Only then did Gallo meet the woman. “She really had the confidence in me that I was going to choose the right person,” says Griggs.
Mentor Cydney Fields, principal at Ray School for eight years, says she volunteered for the program because “part of what helps me grow is to be reflective about what I do … what I’m doing and why I am doing it.”
Intern Mary Ellen Garcia-Humphreys, who was assigned to Carson Elementary, says she admires Principal Kathleen Mayer for the services she brings to the community, including meetings for parents on gang awareness and arranging for students’ mothers to get mammograms. Garcia- Humphreys’ home base is a magnet school, Galileo Scholastic, with looser community ties.
Carney and Albert Bertani, LAUNCH project leader, will meet with the fellows once a month to evaluate their experiences and will consult with the mentors three times during the internship. For the summer training camp, they teamed up with CPS administrators and professors from Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy and its Kellogg Graduate School of Management.
Intern Gloria A. Davis, an assistant principal at Nash Elementary School since 1991, says the courses taught by Kellogg instructors were a welcome addition to traditional school administration courses. Running a school is like running a business, she says. “You have a line in your budget to raise student scores. How do you relate the budget to program improvement?
“The LAUNCH training included a whole format on how to assess where are we, where do we want to go and what steps do we need to get there,” Davis says.
Davis has had a lot of schooling, including an MA in special education and a PhD in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois at Urbana; she says the LAUNCH program is “one of the best trainings I’ve ever had. It was more in-depth and much more intensive.”
“These people were serious,” she says, noting they had visited successful Chicago schools to identify the traits of effective principals. The classes, she adds, “were specifically geared to leadership skills we would need in the Chicago schools.”
Marilyn LeBoy, a 20-year teacher from Funston Elementary who is interning at Lincoln Elementary, agrees. “The Chicago budget process is not necessarily the same as other school districts,” she notes. “The [local school councils] parts were very Chicago specific. And a lot of time was spent on being a change agent, the ramifications of this, and how to deal with a reluctant staff.”
LeBoy says LAUNCH courses were different from other programs because they relied on “primary sources” such as local school council members and CPS administrators, rather than textbooks. Workshop participants included Chief Accountability Officer Philip Hansen, School Leadership Development Officer Lula Ford and a board attorney who works on union issues.
Ray School intern Curtys Berry, an upper-grade math teacher at Bond Elementary, says the training was well-rounded and covered topics such as supervision style, arbitration and negotiation skills a principal uses regularly “with parents, the staff, the community and corporations.”
The training sessions ran from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. five days a week and sometimes longer. “The first and last week, we stayed in dorms on site; after dinner, we came back for seminars,” Berry reports.
The fellows had to keep journals and write papers, including a personal vision statement and a plan for what they would like to accomplish during their first 100 days as a new principal. They didn’t receive grades.
Principal Fields says an important benefit of the LAUNCH program is the support network it provides trainees. “It’s a lonely job,” she observes.
Support is the third phase of the LAUNCH program. Fellows aren’t guaranteed a principal assignment, but they are guaranteed professional development assistance for a year if they get one.
While LAUNCH aimed to put its fellows in effective schools, it wound up assigning eight to schools that themselves needed help, schools on probation. These fellows, all assistant principals with strong backgrounds in curriculum, are serving as associate principals. They had the option of saying “no,” says Carney, but none did.
Chief Education Officer Cozette Buckney and Hansen of the Accountability Office reviewed their resumes and interviewed them. “We assigned them based on recommendations, experience and background, and how well they did in the program,” says Buckney.
Davis agreed to serve as an associate principal at Calumet High School because she “likes a challenge” and wanted to get high school experience. “It gives you a different view of what we need to do to prepare students for high school,” she says.