At a low-key board meeting, district officials told members they are formally looking for partners to better prepare principals. Also, board members approved a contract to develop a single application for high schools, to take the place of the hodge-podge of applications that parents must now wade through.

Chief Leadership Development Officer Steve Gering told board members that internal research shows that principals who start strong, stay strong, while those who don’t start strong, never catch up.

At the moment, almost 90 percent of all principal vacancies are filled by assistant principals, current principals switching schools and other CPS employees who have principal certificates. Only 10 percent go through a formal training program, such as New Leaders for New Schools. Gering said CPS needs to find a better way to provide these insiders with more real-world training and mentoring.

Before taking the helm of a school, CPS leaders would like more principals to do one-year internships. Currently, about 32 people are doing such internships in CPS, but the district has about 100 vacancies a year, Gering said.

The partnerships that CPS develops should closely align their training with the principal competencies. CPS leadership also is in the process of creating new competencies for principals, Gering said.

“We want to make sure that we get from them what we want,” he said. Strong principals are a key component of good schools, according to research.

New high school application process

Board members approved a $390,000 contract with the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice to develop a single high school application. The organization has worked with New York City and Boston.

Ever since former CEO Arne Duncan’s tenure, the district has talked of streamlining the high school application process, which can be confusing for parents and students to navigate and leaves neighborhood schools waiting till the last minute to find out which students will end up on their rolls–as students try to get into selective or other schools.

But one major question is still unanswered: whether CPS leaders want to move to a district-wide system of choice, in which students must apply even to their neighborhood school; or keep the current mixed system, in which students don’t have to apply to their neighborhood school but must fill out an application for others.

Depending on the decisions leaders make, other questions will come up. For example, would every 8th grader have to fill out an application, even if they want to go to their neighborhood high school?  And what if a student fails to fill out an application?

Another significant question: Will charter schools be part of the process? Currently, students must fill out an application for each charter school they are interested in attending, even charters that are part of the same charter network. However, charter schools–which consider autonomy integral to their design–might well balk at being required to join into a district application process.

There’s also the question: What if a student is not accepted into any of his or her chosen schools?

In New York City, all students must apply for high school programs, even those in their neighborhood school (some schools have more than one program of studet) and are asked to rank up to 12 programs in order of preference–to ensure that students get into at least one program. 

According to the CPS contract, the first phase for the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice is to help the district think through these questions. After that, the Institute will develop the computer infrastructure needed to implement the process.

Update on portfolio process

Also at the School Board meeting, Chief Portfolio Officer Oliver Sicat updated board members on the public’s feedback on school closing guidelines, which will be finalized next week. He said that at the community hearing on Monday evening, many attendees asked CPS officials to reconsider closing schools all together and instead focus on putting resources into neighborhood schools.

“What do you say to them?” asked Board Member Jesse Ruiz.

“I tell them that we all agree we need better schools for students, we just disagree on how to get there,” Sicat said. Wednesday night is the final hearing on the proposed guidelines.

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Sarah Karp

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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