Officials say 270 current and aspiring principals have applied to go through a new, intensive screening process to qualify for principal vacancies in the Chicago Public Schools. 

CPS had set a Jan. 31 deadline for candidates to apply to undergo the new screening process, a prerequisite for placement in the district’s pool of eligible candidates. The new process went into effect Jan. 1 and applies to all principal applicants, including current CPS principals who want to switch schools. 

The screening revisions are the latest in an ongoing CPS effort to upgrade the quality of school leadership. Previously, candidates were interviewed, completed approved courses on school leadership, created a portfolio to demonstrate their management and instructional skills and took a written exam on board policies.  

Here is what’s new: 

  • Instead of a portfolio, candidates must undergo an accomplishment review.  Prospective principals have to give evidence of their experience, education, credentials and work experience.  If they completed a portfolio in the past, that will be compared to their subsequent accomplishments.  Then, a follow-up interview will be done to further assess the evidence.
  • Next, candidates have to complete a principal scenario exam, an hour-long, written multiple-choice assessment. The exam lays out a situation that principals are likely to encounter on a daily basis and asks how they would respond. The situations might include handling upset parents, safety issues or a morning school bus accident. 
  • Then three more interviews will be held. 

In the first, candidates will be asked to review a case study that will require specific skills like interpreting school data, creating school improvement strategies and prioritizing the needs of a school.

The second will measure instructional skills by having candidates view a video of a teacher teaching in a real classroom.  They will evaluate the instruction and show how they would provide feedback to teachers by role playing with the interviewer, who takes on the role of the teacher in the video.

The third will be a behavioral interview, which will give candidates another chance to talk about their accomplishments and answer more questions about their past leadership roles. 

  • Finally, there is a background check that will be more rigorous than in the past.  For example, CPS is now checking to see if candidates have committed any physical abuse and fiscal crimes like embezzlement.  It is looking to see whether any felonies have been committed in the last seven years. 

Throughout the process, candidates are measured on 12 specific skills deemed to be necessary and critical for effective leadership 

Each step in the process will be conducted by two assessors who are former principals, current or past area instructional officers or central office administrators.

Give LSCs more info

“The whole idea is to give local school councils the best possible information about a principal for their building,” says Janet Knupp, who heads the Chicago Public Education Fund, which supports the district’s efforts to improve school leadership.  “For a capable person to commit four and a half hours to this process, this will be a no-brainer. Besides, a process like this happens in most other industries, even if you have been doing the same kind of work.”

The head of an executive recruiting firm agrees. 

“In the world of executive recruiting, there are written test questions, role playing, [a screening by] an industrial psychologist, intelligence tests and interviews with a variety of board members,” says Kevin Hanrahan, president of Optimus Recruiting, which specializes in hiring chief financial officers.  “Being a successful principal in one school, doesn’t assure success in another school.  Each school has a different culture and mandates.”

The head of one advocacy group that is often critical of CPS says some of the changes could benefit schools and local school councils. 

“If everyone has to go through this process, then interim principals who were exempt from the previous standards will be forced to reapply.  That’s what we wanted before,” says Donald Moore, who heads Designs for Change.  “And if [CPS] is going to give LSCs the background history of principals, which LSCs say is hard to get, that’s a plus.”

However, Moore is concerned that the new process could be too subjective and used to weed out principals who have criticized the district.  

“What are the qualifications of the people who decide that an individual has given an adequate response,” asks Moore.  “What are the skills of the evaluators?  What standards will be put in place to make sure that the people who are making these decisions are up to the job? And could this be used to disqualify people who have spoken up in the past?”

The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association objected strongly to the new policy, saying that proven professionals should not have to jump through more hoops.

Principal salaries in Chicago range from $110,000 to $150,000 a year, depending on the size of the school and the number of years as principal. 

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