As legislators wrapped up their spring session last month, they quietly gave Chicago school officials authority to establish more stringent standards for hiring and retaining school principals.

The measure, which Gov. Jim Edgar is expected to sign, would give the School Reform Board power “to impose academic, educational, examination and experience requirements and criteria” for the selection, continued employment and contract renewal of a principal. Current law requires only that principals be certified by the state and allows local school councils to establish additional qualifications.

“Just because all candidates are required to be certified doesn’t mean they are equal,” says Greg Richmond, assistant to board president Gery Chico.

One school group, Designs for Change, is urging Edgar to use his amendatory veto to remove the board’s new authority from the bill it was attached to—without a hearing—on the second-to-last day of the session. The group fears, among other things, that the board might revive the old principals exam, which critics said bore little relation to skills needed for school leadership, or impose a Chicago residency requirement.

“This change gives the board a blank check to create numerous new roadblocks to an LSC that wants to hire or rehire a principal,” Designs tells principals and LSC chairs in a flyer.

In a May 30 draft of a rebuttal, Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas maintains that the legislation “simply allows the Chicago School Reform Board to establish high standards for LSCs to use in hiring future princpals.”

The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association supports the legislation. Currently, no administrative experience is required to become a principal, notes President Beverly Tunney, adding that she is confident the board will not impose an exam.

Among the standards school officials are discussing is a requirement that all prospective principals attend seminars conducted by the School Board.

“Having standards in place for such an important position shouldn’t be controversial,” he says. “It’s a case that current law just doesn’t work.”

Designs for Change disagrees, citing a recent teacher survey conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School Research. Seventy-five percent of teachers gave principals very positive ratings on a variety of key elements of leadership, the group notes. In addition, Designs adds, Chicago’s principals corps has become more diverse by both race and gender since the board was removed from the selection process.

“I know the LSCs may look at this as a threat to their authority, but that’s not the intent,” says Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishaw (R-Naperville). “All we are trying to do is help them as they try to select the best principal possible for their school.”

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