A pilot project to improve local school councils’ evaluations of their principals will expand this fall to 40 schools.

Called EXCEL, for Evaluation Expertise for Councils and Educational Leaders, the program seeks to cultivate a year-long dialogue between the LSC and the principal around goals they set together. In contrast, the principal evaluation process prescribed for local school councils by the School Board comes only at the end of the school year and is one-sided.

EXCEL was launched last year at 10 schools after two years of development by a number of educators and reform groups concerned about a lack of feedback to principals and guidance for local school councils in the use of the School Board’s principal evaluation process.

“[Evaluations] need to be more fair and account for growth that may be happening under principals leadership,” says Karen Girolami, an EXCEL consultant based at Leadership for Quality Education.

Joining LQE in the project are the Partnership to Encourage the Next Century’s Urban Leaders (PENCUL), which includes the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, and the Financial Research and Advisory Committee (FRAC) of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

EXCEL begins with eight hours of training during which principals evaluate themselves and LSC members evaluate the principal. Then both parties meet to set goals for the rest of the year. The principal tracks his or her progress towards the goals using a special Internet-based program, which can create regular reports to the council. In the spring, the principal and LSC fill out final evaluation forms and meet again to set goals for the next year.

“[EXCEL] allows everyone to be a partner in the evaluation procedure,” says Larry Murphy, a member of the Gray Elementary LSC, who has served for 10 years. He adds that the year-long process keeps both the principal and LSC focused on goals.

Girolami says first-year LSC participants were overwhelmingly positive about the process. However, LQE found that most principals did not use the Internet program. “The software simplifies the task as long as you know how to do it,” says Swift Elementary Principal Emil DeJulio. “But the reality is that there are glitches that become inconvenient.”

This year, EXCEL consultants will provide ongoing technical support to principals who use the software, says John Ayers, executive director of LQE. EXCEL also considers two more leadership factors than the board’s evaluation document does —interpersonal effectiveness and school operations management. And it handles school performance data, such as test scores, differently, looking at overall scores, year-to-year changes and long-term trends. The board has a single set of growth goals that apply to all schools.

“[T]he EXCEL system is far superior than the rating system that is put out by the board,” says Don Moore, executive director of the research and advocacy group Designs for Change. However, he says that EXCEL, like the board evaluation, does not go far enough to cultivate effective relationships between principals and LSCs.

The opinions of teachers and parents should also be factored into principal evaluations, says John Simmons, president of Participation Associates, an education management consulting firm. “In too many schools, teachers and parents are not aware of how or why decisions are made.”

Ayers agrees EXCEL could do more to foster good working relationships among educators, parents and communities. One idea on the drawing board, but not yet funded, is to produce a video that shows an LSC and principal working in an optimal and productive relationship. “People need to see this, not just hear [about it],” Ayers says.

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