The Chicago Public Schools is poised to ramp up a new way for local school councils to evaluate their principals.

The model for the new evaluation process, now in use at 40 schools, brings LSCs and principals together at the start of the school year to set goals and provides for ongoing dialogue.

In contrast, the standard evaluation that most councils use is one-sided and takes place once a year in the spring.

“Effective evaluation cannot be a one-shot deal at the end [of a school year],” says Carlos Azcoitia, deputy chief education officer and an early supporter of the new model, called EXCEL for Evaluation Expertise for Councils and Educational Leaders.

EXCEL grew out of a collaboration involving CPS, Leadership for Quality Education (LQE) and the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. It integrates corporate models of employee evaluation with CPS research on creating supportive learning environments. Human resource consultants Exxceed Inc. provided technical assistance.

“If you don’t give [principals] a quality evaluation, they don’t know how to do better,” says John Ayers, LQE’s executive director. “People aren’t afraid of evaluations if they’re fair and developmental.”

Most of those who use EXCEL say the process is easier to use and more flexible than the CPS version.

Since it adopted EXCEL two years ago, the LSC at Galileo has a better understanding of what the principal is supposed to do, and the principal “feels much more comfortable” with the evaluation process, says LSC chair Claudia Mazola.

Ray Elementary Principal Cydney Fields says EXCEL helps her to focus on the priorities set by the LSC. “It minimizes the frustration,” Fields says. “There are so many things to do in the course of a day; [EXCEL] brings me back to what my goals are.”

A prototype of EXCEL was tested in 10 CPS schools in 1999, and the process was fine-tuned based on participants’ feedback, then expanded to 33 schools the following year.

Councils and principals using EXCEL are trained in the fall to do initial evaluations and set goals for the year. Principals are provided with an Internet-based program that tracks their progress and produces monthly reports for their LSCs.

In the spring, council members and principals are trained to fill out evaluation forms, then meet to discuss the results and set goals for the following year.

In all, there are six hours of on-site training and 20 hours of technical support by an EXCEL consultant, who helps LSCs set goals and timetables, trains principals to use the Internet software and helps both parties at the year-end joint feedback session.

However, adapting EXCEL—training and consulting time intact—systemwide would be too costly for CPS to implement, says Lisa McMahon, an EXCEL project manager for LQE.

To be cost effective, CPS will likely change or eliminate some features of the EXCEL process, she adds. Private foundations pick up expenses for the pilot schools. “Right now, we have the Cadillac version,” McMahon says. “It would be a very expensive process for the system to roll out.” With all the bells and whistles, EXCEL would cost $3,000 a year for each school, she estimates.

Access to consultants is a key element of EXCEL, says Mazola of Galileo. If CPS is going to change its principal evaluation process, “it has to adopt the consulting part,” she cautions. “That’s the part that makes it work. If you’re having a problem with a principal, it doesn’t [turn into] finger-pointing.”

Fields agrees. “If [training] could be more tailor-made, it can be very effective in helping people develop leadership in a positive way,” she says.

Azcoitia is optimistic that CPS will find a cost effective way to adapt EXCEL. “We’ll just incorporate EXCEL into the new [LSC] training,” Azcoitia says. “It’s doable.”

Ayers of LQE is recommending that CPS phase in the new evaluation program to give LSCs and principals time to adjust.

“Anytime you introduce something new, it’s going to be more work for everyone,” he says. “If we keep our eye on quality, then we’ll avoid the worst pitfalls.”

CPS officials are expected to make a decision later this spring.

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