Louis Anderson lay in wait for his prey in the Illini Student Union. A 53-year-old man in faintly tinted glasses and a mustard suit, he watched as education majors at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, most of them seniors, passed by the Chicago Public Schools booth at the annual job fair in April. Anderson would eye the students, nearly all dressed in black power suits, and when he caught a sympathetic look, he’d quickly check out the tag on the student’s lapel and call out the first name.

“Hi, Melissa.”

“I’m from the suburbs,” said Melissa, who hailed from northwest suburban Mt. Prospect. “I’m interested in your schools, but not really.”

A nonplused Anderson barreled ahead with his pitch to Melissa and her friend Adrianne, a native of Lake Zurich. Chicago has 588 schools divided into six regions, he informed the women. He pushed “a candidate profile,” a sort of pre-application, into their hands.

“This is going to help me help you find a job in the Chicago Public Schools,” he said. Despite what they might assume, Anderson asserted, the Chicago schools see 1,000 or more vacancies a year, “and somebody is going to die, somebody is going to quit.” The result—opportunity for Melissa and Adrianne.

The Chicago Public Schools has determined it wants to fill its ranks with “fierce crusaders”— idealists driven to teach poor and disadvantaged children—and Anderson’s job is to pinpoint and attract them. As the Illini women tried to figure out whether Anderson was a legitimate charmer or a smarmy salesman—he’s more the former—he searched for signs of their professional ardor.

Later he would say, “If there’s a burning desire to be a fierce crusader, or even if there’s just a flicker, I know what fuel to use to turn fire into flame.”

“If you want to join us, here are the hard facts,” said Anderson, sticking a salary schedule into Melissa’s hand. “Great,” Melissa said lamely, as Anderson tramped through other details—information on the school system’s web site, a tip to apply through a school’s hiring committee rather than just with the principal, and some words about state certification. “I got your names and phone numbers,” said Anderson. “If I don’t hear from you, I’ll send the state troopers after you,” he joked, bursting with the ricochet laugh that is his signature.

Anderson, a professional recruiter imported from the business world, represents a new effort by the School Reform Board to attract a sharper instructor corps. “We want to bring the best people possible to Chicago,” says Carlos Ponce, the board’s new human resources director, who previously served as Chicago’s general services commissioner.

In concert with the Financial Research and Advisory Committee (FRAC), a think tank associated with the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, the board has pumped up its approach with recruiters like Anderson, brighter literature, improved interviewing techniques, assistance from regular teachers and principals, and a web site. The goal is to draw more new teachers—ideally “fierce crusaders”—from more institutions that are more competitive than the local colleges that historically have filled Chicago’s classrooms.

“In concept, this is one of the most interesting models in the country,” says David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers, a Boston-based consulting firm. “It’s an alternative to traditional recruitment. In Chicago, they have tried to think outside the box and to use technology well. They’ve scoured the country to find the best prototypes. It all certainly bears watching.”

In this age of accountability, Chicago is not alone in beefing up efforts to attract the best and the brightest new teachers. However, it also faces a unique set of challenges: a city residency requirement for all employees, a hiring time line that puts the city behind other districts, requirements for a certain racial mix in each school faculty, and perceptions about a lack of safety at work.

Both Melissa and Adrianne ended up teaching in the suburbs, and they aren’t alone—board recruiters lose many more attractive prospects than they land. Yet early indications are that Chicago’s modern hiring techniques, which have come on line over the past 12 months, are bringing incremental gains in alumni from a wider band of colleges. The board is looking to fine-tune its approach next year.

A Chico passion

Traditionally, the board’s Human Resources Department sought teachers through two job fairs held in the spring—one for high schools, the second for grammar schools—and through campus visits and desk work. “Most of the time, though, we would wait for somebody to come knocking on the door and then review their credentials,” says Xiomara Cortés Metcalfe, the department’s director of personnel services and staffing. Local institutions, led by Chicago State and Northeastern Illinois universities and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), furnished the greatest bulk of teachers.

In the early 1990s, though, the board launched a joint project with FRAC that sought to upgrade various board operations, including teacher recruitment, through “corporate re-engineering.” Called the T.I.M.E. Project (short for To Improve Management of Education), this effort ended in 1995 with a number of recommendations on staffing: Increase the number of recruiters to five people, enlist principals and teachers in the salesmanship and list eligible teachers on computer.

After his installation, School Reform Board President Gery Chico took a special interest in hiring procedures, and it remains a passion.

“This is not an assault on the quality of teachers we have today, but if we don’t focus on the recruitment of teachers, we’re going to fall behind quickly,” says Chico. “I’d also like to see a broadened pool, tapping new supplies. It’s better to have diversity in your supply. Any business should operate that way. We’re applying a private-enterprise model to public education.”

Specifically, Chico is intent on bulking up with a range of colleges and universities.

However, since Chicago’s traditional teacher suppliers tend to have more minority graduates than the elite universities do, some Chicago educators have wondered whether the board’s hiring campaign is aimed at getting more white teachers. “We’re looking for background in education, not something different racially or ethnically,” says Metcalfe. “There’s no conspiracy to get whites into the system.” She continues: “We’re looking for teachers who are well-educated. Not that I want to diminish Chicago State, Northeastern or UIC—I’m not turning my back on that group—but I would tell you that if you want the best and the brightest, you have to expand your base.”

That goal rankles some in Chicago’s higher education community. “They [board officials] think we produce students who aren’t smart enough,” remarks Victoria Chou, the education dean at UIC. “They think good teachers have high grade-point averages and test well. They are missing the fact that our students have a greater common knowledge—and that has a lot of do with retention [keeping teachers]. I have a big problem with that [Chico’s] mind-set.”

Yet circumstances place UIC in “a vulnerable spot,” Chou acknowledges, because its teachers are deeply enmeshed in a system that evidences so many spoiled patches: “If we were supplying teachers and there were no schools on probation, we’d have a better case.”

Yet at least one dean has no problem with the new approach. “We have a minority population here, and districts are looking to integrate their faculties,” remarks Genevieve Lopardo, education dean at Chicago State. “Our students are being courted all over—there’s no problem getting jobs.”

In any event, FRAC attracted $1.4 million in grants from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and the Joyce, McDougal Family and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundations to help craft better ways to recruit teachers. The FRAC initiative, run by coordinator Hilton Clark, is entitled the Teacher Recruitment Initiative (TRI).

The project’s description notes that Chicago, like many districts, lacks special education, bilingual, math and science teachers. In addition, it notes that the city’s school faculties are “perennially out of compliance” with its court-sanctioned desegregation consent decree, which stipulates that the majority-minority mix on every school faculty should fall within 15 percentage points of the citywide average, which is 45-55. Typically, it’s West and South side schools that are short on white teachers, and North and Northwest Side schools that are short on minority teachers.

Change agents

Reprising Chico’s anthem, Hilton Clark said last year, “The board has been recruiting from local colleges, but you need diversity [of institutions] to improve the quality of teachers.”

FRAC and the board proceeded to try to lure driven and idealistic education graduates to Chicago, figuring they would be best able to turn around failing schools. Carlos Ponce calls the prototype “a change agent, someone who isn’t passive in life.” A small study of education students, done pro bono by Chicago-based Loran Marketing Group in August 1998, yielded the definition “fierce crusader.” According to the Loran report, a fierce crusader views teaching as “a calling or mission,” evidences “a long-held commitment to teaching” and tends to be “a passionate believer of [a] stated ideology.”

Some still caution that the goal of drafting fierce crusaders has hazards. “It takes several years to learn how to teach, no matter how committed you are and especially when working with kids who have deficits,” remarks Richard Murnane, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “And people burn out quickly. To sign up young people with a lot of idealism who may not have the skills yet isn’t always a good strategy.”

Nonetheless, the board initiated techniques to realize its vision. Initially FRAC targeted two dozen colleges of education from which to draw candidates for some 40 elementary and high schools with teacher mentoring programs, a cohort that soon expanded to include all city schools. The TRI portfolio included Chicago’s traditional suppliers as well as such flagship institutions as the universities of Michigan, Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin. The University of Texas was thrown in for its relatively high number of bilingual graduates, as was Florida A & M, which boasts a large African-American student population.

Human Resources itself targeted a more varied universe of institutions, from Harvard and Stanford universities to Ball State and Lake Forest College.

The 24 TRI schools got a full-court press, starting with postcards sent to graduates to stir interest. With an assist from the business consulting firms of Deloitte & Touche and Saville & Holdsworth Ltd., TRI launched a web site (www.trichicago.com). Adorned with an impressionistic city skyline and pencil icons that lead readers deeper inside, the online brochure includes information about salaries—$33,810 annually to start—individual schools and school system initiatives, among other things. It also includes an interactive application form.

TRI contracted with JDC Solutions, an Oak Brook personnel consulting firm headed by John Cassin, a former human resources vice president at mapmaker Rand McNally Corp., to refine recruitment procedures. After observing job fairs in February 1998, Cassin concluded that Chicago recruiters showed up ill-prepared (only one-third had materials) and talked too much, intimidating visitors. Instead, he says, “The candidate should be talking 80 percent of the time, and the recruiter should be listening.”

Recruiters also projected their own feelings onto candidates, Cassin found, and frequently riveted on one positive aspect, like a candidate’s having been an Eagle Scout, and ignored signs of trouble. Cassin dubs the phenomenon “the halo effect.”

For the large job fairs, referred to as “cattle calls” for the number of prospects clogging the aisles, JDC Solutions came up with a two-tiered system whereby a front-line recruiter conducts a screening interview with a prospect. If the student passes muster—ideally, qualifying as a fierce crusader—the student is passed back to a volunteer Chicago principal or teacher, called an ambassador, who engages in a five-minute conversation. The ambassadors are to evaluate the candidates and get them to fill out a candidate profile form.

At a workshop held for ambassadors at Senn High School in January, Cassin said that at big job fairs, the Chicago team should aim to entice “the total graduating class” to the city’s booth. The booth should fairly glow with energy. “We want the fun-est booth,” Cassin told the ambassadors. “We want your cheeks to ache by the end of the day from smiling.”

In the meantime, the board’s Human Resources Department had beefed up its recruiting corps from three to seven. “We looked for people with private sector experience, who had business savvy and who had some teaching background—one or the other or both,” says Xiomara Metcalfe, formerly a senior vice president and recruiting director for EdgeMark Financial Corp., a bank holding company. “We were trying to get people with insights into several worlds.”

The son of a former president of Tennessee State University, Louis Anderson has toiled in personnel for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and for Deere & Co., the farm-implement maker. “My job was to get minorities to consider locating in Ottumwa, Iowa,” he remarks. “If you can do that, you can sell ice to Eskimos.” He also staged retirement-planning programs for the American Association of Retirement Persons in 10 states, coming to the School Board in last September “for the opportunity.”

Mia Baker, Anderson’s fellow recruiter on a job fair circuit in March and April, is all of 30 yet has recruited for Kinko’s and Del Ray Farms, a string of groceries. Other recruiters include a former teacher with an MBA and a military background; an ex-bilingual teacher who once worked for a cable company; a former Arthur Andersen Co. accountant; and a onetime school counselor. Toni Hill, a former recruiting manager for Motorola, runs the board’s recruiting unit.

The recruiters were armed with what board officials consider a bracing message. “In the jargon of the hood, we’re what’s happnin’,” says Metcalfe. “Our image is that we’re implementing change at all levels.” Specifically, Metcalfe mentions governance by the local school councils, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s direct control of the system, the billions being spent on capital improvements, the end of social promotion and good relations with the Chicago Park District.

Touting Chicago

Chicago also produced new brochures and application materials. The lead piece calls the Chicago public schools “a national model for urban education.” The brochure contains a boiler-plate letter from Mayor Daley touting the pluses Metcalfe enumerated, plus colorful photos of teachers and children and a salary schedule tucked into a back-flap pocket. Chicago the metropolis is portrayed in hyperbolic terms: “…Chicago is one of the most sophisticated, cosmopolitan and down-to-earth cities in the nation.”

This season, recruiters traveled to the universities of Michigan, Indiana and Iowa, to historically black colleges in Atlanta and to the Florida A & M and Florida International universities, which have large black and Hispanic enrollments. Metcalfe appeared at Harvard and Columbia universities. The School Board also bused a group of 25 promising University of Wisconsin education students—all still lower classmen—to town in March to tour five schools and hear Ponce, at a Union League Club dinner, try to allay their fears about locating in Chicago.

Over the last couple years, the system also has turned Reform Board members and top officials into recruitment specialists. Chico has appeared at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana; board member Gene Saffold, at black colleges in Atlanta; and Chief Education Officer Cozette Buckney, at Harvard, the University Wisconsin and Vanderbilt University, where she earned her doctorate.

When Louis Anderson and Mia Baker hit the road on the Mid-America Teacher tour, a week-long progression of fairs at five Illinois universities, including University of Illinois, they were armed with brochures, applications and a couple giveaways—a pen and a bookmark. Chicago’s booth was a six-foot-long table draped with a turquoise cloth. A sign on a pole depicted a mixed-race group of beaming youngsters.

Anderson and Baker, assisted some days by Hilton Clark, talked up Chicago and passed out materials. In general, both recruiters made favorable impressions, Baker with her matter-of-fact manner and Anderson with effervescent teasing. “There’s no one who’s been as lively as him,” remarked University of Illinois student Sara DeVries after a go-round with the recruiter.

“The majority of students are timid and scared,” explains Anderson. “I put them at ease with a joke here and there.”

Though it was spring vacation back in Chicago, few ambassadors showed up to help. “It was no show, no call,” complained Baker. At Northern Illinois University, the line at the Chicago booth sometimes stretched scores of bodies deep. “We could have used the help,” Anderson commented later. “The pass-back thing [Cassin’s job-fair technique] sounds good, but you can’t use it if there’s no one for the lead recruiter to pass back to. You yourself can’t do a proper interview in 2 minutes.”

Chicago faced stiff competition. The University of Illinois fair, for instance, saw 150 school districts participating, one-third more than last year. Districts from all over the country and from the Chicago suburbs—Northbrook, Villa Park, Long Grove and Elgin—showed up hungry for graduates. Morton High School in Berwyn mounted its own booth.

Chicago’s booth appeared pallid next to other displays. Some tables had laptops propped open to reveal lively advertisements. Elsewhere, montages of pictures and statistics decorated grabbing triptychs. “California Dreamin’?” inquired a table tent at San Diego’s booth. The booth of Galena Park, a suburb of Houston, groaned with giveaways: water bottles, key rings, markers, pens and key rings. “Teach at the beach!” read a digital sign advertising the schools of ocean-side Georgetown County, S.C., which offered a package containing sand and shells as a premium.

At the Fairfax County, Va., booth, an official was explaining how candidates not only apply on-line but also undergo an initial interview with a recorded phone voice. “I tell people that this is the future,” said Ann Erler, Fairfax’s instructional hiring coordinator.

Some districts were offering contracts then and there, putting Chicago at even more of a disadvantage. California’s Corona-Norco Unified School District, located east of Los Angeles, posted a big sign touting its starting salary of $36,264. Representatives carried with them a scrapbook of Illinoisans they had signed to contracts over the last two years and were now on staff. “We have a pipeline going,” said human service coordinator David DiPaolo, who made two offers at the University of Illinois alone.

“Yeah, we’ve made some deals,” said John Hawkins, a personnel specialist for the State of Hawaii, scouring the landscape for special education and math or science instructors.

Chicago obeys a longer process. Once back at board headquarters, recruiters make follow-up calls. “We’re calling up candidates to say, Remember us?'” says Metcalfe. Once a prospect has submitted a full application, recruiters pass his or her resume to three to five principals, chosen on the basis of the applicant’s teaching specialty and geographic preference, and the school’s faculty desegregation status. If the prospect was judged a fierce crusader at the job fair, the resume is among the first that go out.

When a principal makes a hire, a letter of employment is sent to the board, sometimes by fax and sometimes in the hand of the new hire. The candidate then undergoes an orientation and various credential and background checks. A medical form also is due then.

At the point of hire, the principal checks to see if the choice squares with the consent decree requirements for faculty desegregation, says Metcalfe. If the choice doesn’t, the principal can seek a waiver, which principals say is a cumbersome process.

In August, schools CEO Paul Vallas sent a memo to principals, saying that the waiver process had been suspended for two weeks and that they should simply forward requests to central office for record keeping. Principals took that to mean that, during the suspension, they could hire without regard to race.

Beverly Tunney, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, applauds the move. “Our goal is to have a good teacher in front of every kid,” she says. “It can become, I would say, very frustrating, if you can’t get a white teacher to go to a black school or a black teacher to go to a white school.”

With a few exceptions, CPS attracts enough candidates to fill its openings with properly certified teachers, says Metcalfe. The exceptions are high school chemistry and physics, Polish bilingual instruction and regular Spanish.

In its hiring, Chicago is governed by the strictures of school reform, which puts teacher selection in the hands of principals. “A principal has to want you, there’s no getting around that,” says John Jursa, principal of Prosser Vocational High School in Belmont-Cragin. “But young people are willing to take their chances [with that].” Louis Anderson tries to put the best face on principal hiring: “I say to a kid, ‘If you were a principal, wouldn’t you want to have a say in who you hire?'”

In filling vacancies, many principals employ a category of teacher called a full-time basis substitute (FTB), which, in effect, prolongs the teachers’ probationary status. FTBs also get paid less than regularly assigned teachers. “If they prove themselves, then I’ll get them assigned permanently,” says Gary Moriello, principal of Gladstone Elementary School on the Near West Side.

Metcalfe estimates that more than half of all new hires are FTBs. “That’s perfectly acceptable, and even advisable,” she says, maintaining that new teachers are content to weather a lengthened probationary period.

Principals also make arrangements outside the view of recruiters. “I get a lot of young white guys coming to my school, but I can’t use them [because of faculty desegregation standards],” says Gary Moriello. “My friend down the street gets young black girls. So we trade.”

Notwithstanding, Metcalfe is pleased that more and more principals are alerting Human Resources to vacancies. While only 84 vacancies got filed with the department three years ago, 1,000 were filed this year, according to Metcalfe. Yet recruiters and applicants also report that principals frequently show an indifference to the hiring process. “A principal will say she has a vacancy, and the candidate will go out and once there, the principal will act like she can’t be bothered,” relates Mia Baker.

Even interested principals can be slow to contact candidates sent their way. “Responsiveness [by principals] was sporadic this year, though it got better as the start of school approached,” says Hilton Clark, who held the hands of many TRI applicants as they hunted for slots. Where suburban and other districts will go trolling for new teachers in May or June, Chicago principals by and large get around to selecting from available candidates in July and August, when they have more time and know who on their staff is retiring. “Suburban districts get a jump-start on us,” says Metcalfe. “They’re giving contracts in May and June.”

‘CPS no help’

Applicants are often perplexed, or worse. Rachel Goldner, a University of Michigan graduate who scoured the Chicago landscape for an elementary education job throughout the summer, emerged with just one interview and one phone call. “Chicago Public Schools have done nothing to help me,” she said, frustrated. “I want to teach underprivileged kids, but they [the board] make it so difficult, not opening doors.”

“I’m not going to beat up on my principals,” remarks Metcalfe. “They have reasons they aren’t attentive to hiring. They have crises. They have a lot going on. There is a lot to be said for managers of a unit hiring their team members.”

“Principals get so many resumes, it’s very, very difficult to answer all the requests,” says Tunney of the principals association. “If you get 150 resumes, how do you distinguish between the good and the bad? This is not a situation where you can say principals are incompetent. It’s a matter of time.”

For her part, Tunney contends that a backlog of paperwork at central office, sometimes stretching to two months, bogs down hiring. “That’s the exception, not the rule,” responds Metcalfe, who nonetheless defends the paperwork: “I have to be careful of who I put in front of kids.”

The hiring process should take no more than a couple of weeks, says Metcalfe.

Safety concerns dampen the enthusiasm of some would-be recruits, as underlined in a Catalyst survey of graduates from three institutions. (See story.) “I’m kind of nervous with some of the areas where I might be teaching,” said Meghan Reece, a University of Michigan graduate and Kalamazoo native, while weighing Chicago as an option. But others hoping to teach in Chicago are not deterred. “Look, I hope I’m a dedicated teacher,” remarked Brenda Meyer, likewise emerging from the University of Michigan. “If you’re dedicated, you expect to choose a difficult neighborhood. I’m planning on it.” (Meyer ended up teaching in a Los Angeles suburb.)

Unlike other districts, Chicago requires its employees to reside within the city—giving them six months to relocate. In Metcalfe’s view, the residency rule has proved a plus. “Young people want to move into Chicago,” she insists. “They want Rush Street. There’s nothing to do on Saturday night if you’re stuck in Hoffman Estates.” Chico agrees: “Why did Sara Lee decide to locate their R and D plant in Chicago? Because people love to live here, and we’re talking teachers, too.”

Yet to many in the field, the residency mandate stands as an impediment to getting the best staff. “A lot of the people who consider the system have grown up in Oak Lawn or Palos Park, lilly-white places like that, and they want to return there to live,” observes Moriello. “Where you live has nothing to do with how good a teacher you are.” Says Mia Baker, “The residency requirement is a big problem. It’s hard to sell the concept, because it tells you where you have to live, and people may have family and commitments and don’t want to relocate.”

However weighty the difficulties, between Feb. 1 and Aug. 31 the board hired 1,001 teachers and was forecasting a total of 1,300 by the end of the hiring cycle, said Metcalfe. (Chicago employs 28,500 teachers in total.)

A mid-September board report indicates that, with a couple weeks to go in the cycle, Chicago has just barely reduced the percentage of new hires coming from Chicago State, Northeastern Illinois and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Last year, graduates of these institutions made up 27 percent of new hires; so far this year, they make up 26 percent. Of the three, Chicago State experienced the largest drop off, from 11 percent of new hires for 1998-99 to 8.6 percent, for the current school year.

“We’ve dropped the numbers from those places, and so we’re spreading the vacancies out to other schools,” says Metcalfe.

“We got people from Ball State and Olivet Nazarene,” boasts Metcalfe. “We got a couple people from Arizona State, and we didn’t even go there. It’s probably a result of all the activities we engage in. We’re broadening the base.”

The board attracted a slightly higher percentage of grads from several flagship state universities, including Iowa, Missouri and Indiana, and from Northwestern University. But its rate of hires from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and University of Wisconsin-Madison held steady or was down some.

Two recruits came from the University of California-Berkeley, another two came from Minnesota’s Carleton College, and graduates of Oberlin College and Vermont’s Middlebury College climbed aboard. However, the board gained no one from Yale University, Howard University or Williams and Macalaster colleges, as in the past. Neither Florida International nor Florida A & M made a showing. The rate of hires from the more coveted schools such as the universities of Wisconsin and Michigan each fell below 3 per cent.

What’s promising to Hilton Clark is that a sizable slice of recruits from more prestigious schools came through TRI procedures, starting with its web site. “We landed as many kids from the University of Michigan as from Chicago State,” says Clark. TRI snagged master’s degree hires from Columbia University in New York as well as graduates of Syracuse University and the University of Virginia.

The recruits, as hoped, are well-educated. Some 23 percent of the hires have earned at least a master’s degree, according to board figures.

From July 1998 to July 1999, 38 percent of the new hires were white, 23 per cent were black and 12 per cent were Hispanic, roughly the same balance as the year before. (Overall the city’s teacher corps is 45 percent white, 42 percent African-American and 11 percent Hispanic, according to board reports.)

Metcalfe speculates that more whites may now be considering teaching as a profession. “More and more they are turned off by corporate America, where [the kids] never see dad,” she says. In contrast, Metcalfe says that while promising young African Americans once considered a teaching job a golden achievement, the doors of the more lucrative business world now swing open to them.

In a first, Human Resources welcomed 350 newly hired teachers at an August reception at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Schools CEO Paul Vallas gave a rousing speech; and guests were set upon by upper-level administrators, bearing words of welcome. In another first, every new hire will be paired with a mentor teacher at their own school. (See Catalyst, September 1999.) New teachers must also take 30 clock hours of instruction covering subjects from learning strategies to how to keep a proper attendance book.

“That’ll make a lot of sense, but only if the process is done well,” cautions Harvard’s Richard Murnane, who says that mentors need to spend time in the newcomers’ classrooms.

The hope is that the extra attention will stem teacher attrition, which, according to the American Federation of Teachers absorbs half of new hires within their first seven years of teaching. Ironically, the situation can be worse for fierce crusaders, who risk being isolated at their schools.

Recruitment ambassador Sheila Polk, a just-departed assistant to the principal at Juarez High School—she’s studying for her doctorate at Harvard—describes the Pilsen school as “a negative, desolate climate. We are up to it in mediocrity. You take fierce crusaders and put them in this environment, and they’ll be ostracized.” (Juarez was hit by scandal in July, when it was alleged that teachers fudged student grades from Fs to Ds.)

This coming year, in a stab at improving the timeliness of hiring, central office is guaranteeing jobs for 100 new teachers. “Presently, if I have vacancies in math and science, I may have to wait until August to fill them,” Metcalfe says. “With this, I can jump on those people immediately.”

Metcalfe would like the board to experiment with other methods to nail down vacancies more quickly fashion, such as projecting future enrollment earlier or getting the budget in place before July 1. In addition, Metcalfe intends to “tweak” the ambassador corps this year and rely on principals and teachers who are demonstrably “tops” in the system. And she wants new hires to return to their alma maters to recruit.

Metcalfe applauds the partnership with TRI. This past year, 150 principals were trained through TRI in interviewing techniques, a process that will now be offered to all school executives. The TRI web site drew 1,000 applicants, of whom 145 landed jobs in the system, reports Hilton Clark.

TRI also set up a system to judge whether Chicago is indeed hiring fierce crusaders. It put 450 applicants through an assessment center that included a paper-and-pencil test on personality traits, responding to a hypothetical classroom situation and a group exercise. The assessment center evaluations will be compared to first-year ratings of teachers by principals to determine if the best people were, in fact, chosen. “Whether what we’re getting now can actually perform—whether they are fierce crusaders—we don’t really know yet,” says Clark.

Metcalfe, likewise, doesn’t know if the schools have snagged any more fierce crusaders than they had before: “This is about improving achievement and making good human beings. It’s a tough business. I’ve been in personnel a long time, and I know a fierce crusader when I meet one. But I don’t know how to measure it. How can you measure a hug or a word to a kid that he can be somebody?”

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