Confirming weeks of speculation that Ron Huberman would exit the Chicago Public Schools the middle of the school year, CPS issued a statement late Wednesday that Nov. 29 would be his last day.
With a new mayor not due until May and a new schools chief sometime thereafter, Huberman walks away with many questions at his back.
In his short term at the school district – a year and nine months — he brought in several executive level employees from the corporate world, including Chief Financial Officer Diana Ferguson and Chief Human Capital Officer Alicia Winckler. Do they exit with him? And if so, who will take over their important jobs?
“There’s a leadership vacuum the likes of which I haven’t ever seen in the Chicago school system,” says Clarice Berry , president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. “It’s horrendous.”
Huberman also is in the midst of a big fight with the Chicago Teachers Union over the way he laid off teachers last summer. The district is appealing the decision of a federal judge who called the firings unlawful. Does the district continue with this appeal, or try to work with the union?
The school district will be headed into another tough budget year, especially with millions of dollars in federal stimulus running out at the end of this school year. In most years, the Chief Executive Officer spends the spring laying out budget scenarios for the next school year and lobbying Springfield to provide more money to the district, or to at least provide stable funding. What will an interim do about the budget, knowing that he or she probably won’t be around to see it through?
Of concern to many is whether principals and teachers will still be expected to carry out the tasks of the performance management system Huberman set up. Gloria Roman, principal of Ana Roque de Duprey Elementary, says that without a chief education or executive officer in place, many principals won’t know what their next move should be. She adds that there are a lot of new principals in the district who need support.
The most immediate question of all, of course, is who will be the interim chief executive officer? Cynthia Flowers of the Black Star Project says she would be happy to see someone like Robert Runcie, who is the current chief administrative officer. Runcie oversees a wide range of functions and programs, from information technology to a new effort to engage community leaders in improving their schools.
But even with all these questions, few of the heavy-hitters surrounding the schools are bemoaning the loss of Huberman.
Many speculate that Huberman, whose background was in business and public safety, was brought in primarily to cut the budget and shrink the bureaucracy. To that end, he laid off more than 1,000 central office and citywide staffers, such as teacher mentors and lunchroom workers.
At the same time, he gave more authority to chief area officers who oversee improvement efforts at groups of schools, and beefed up that mid-level bureaucracy.
He also stepped up the pressure on principals. Using the business lingo of performance management, he set up a systematic process for looking at data and developing action plans in response to problem areas.
Winckler, who once said a principal should be able to turn around a school in a year, was aggressive in removing principals whose schools were not meeting performance goals.
Huberman’s other signature initiative was “Culture of Calm,” which was a plan to use millions of dollars in stimulus money to create a safer environment for students. At first, Huberman said he would spend $60 million on the initiative, but wound up spending about $51 million.
The program included some money for community groups to work with students and to watch them as they traveled to and from school. But its hallmark was intense mentoring of those students whom Huberman identified through statistics as most likely to be involved in shootings.
One piece of data that has yet to be reported is whether, after being involved with the mentor, any those children were victims or perpetrators of shootings.