Few districts can match the breadth of professional training that Chicago offers its principals and aspiring principals, according to a researcher who has conducted a national study on the topic.”Most districts, their professional development for principals is handing them the keys to the building and a map to the school,” says Kent Peterson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “I’m serious about that.”

Even so, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, which provides much of the training, believes Chicago’s efforts are inadequate.

As Catalyst goes to press, the association is negotiating with the School Board over a set of additional requirements for becoming and remaining a principal in Chicago. Its proposals for aspiring principals include:

Requiring candidates to go through the Principal Assessment Center, which is a daylong series of activities that simulate the key challenges principals face. The center currently is run by the Financial Research and Advisory Committee (FRAC) of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

Additional course work, 84 hours instead of 70, and a revamped curriculum covering staff development, recruiting faculty, interpersonal effectiveness, operations, working with local school councils and other topics.

A longer internship, 90 days instead of 30.

For first-year principals, the association proposes mandatory mentoring. For all contract principals, it proposes doubling the number of training hours required every two years from 32 to 64. It also would include assistant principals and regional and central office staff in this training; currently, they are exempt from even the 32-hour requirement.

Before submitting its proposals to the School Board, the association invited feedback from a number of groups: Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), Chicago School Leadership Development Cooperative, Designs for Change, Lawyers’ School Reform Advisory Project, FRAC, Local School Council Advisory Board and the PENCUL partnership.

Three measures aroused some concern. One was the assessment center requirement. Currently, this evaluation is voluntary–over the past three years, some 370 principal candidates have taken advantage of it to learn their strengths and weaknesses. The principals association wants it to be mandatory, with the results used to guide the already required internship. The principal candidates themselves would continue to decide whether to disclose the results to local school councils (LSC) during the hiring process.

PURE, for one, believes this setup may put some talented candidates at an unfair disadvantage. “Not everyone responds well to role-play or to going through imaginary activities,” notes PURE’s Julie Woestehoff. If this evaluation is required and a principal candidate decides not to share his or her scores, LSCs likely will assume that the candidate didn’t do well, she says.

The second proposal that raised concern would bring LSC members together with principals and regional and central office staff for “non-binding” interviews with candidates who had completed all the eligibility requirements. The principals association says the idea is to improve LSC members’ interviewing skills and to acquaint them with available candidates.

“This would add clarity to the training process,” says the association’s Al Bertani. “I’m not sure that LSCs have really been adequately prepared to conduct the kind of executive search that they are engaged in.”

However, Andy Wade of the Chicago School Leadership Development Cooperative says that including administrators on the interview panels would diminish LSCs. “If you’re having mock interviews and somebody is the head of a big department at CPS and somebody is on an LSC that you aren’t even applying to, who are you going to be playing to?”

Wade applauds the association for soliciting others’ opinions, though. “The fact that Al and his team felt that it was important to consult with people who were LSC members was an important step forward for school reform,” he says, noting that the reform groups had little input when the School Board first adopted principal eligibility requirements.

Also eliciting concern was the association’s proposal to triple the length of the internship, required for candidates who have not been assistant principals in Chicago. Under certain circumstances, principals from other school districts could be exempt. However, Donald Moore of Designs for Change believes this requirement would deter other outsiders. “You really would, in effect, have to take time off from your current employment to fulfill that requirement,” he observes.

Senate Bill 1019, passed by the General Assembly in 1996, gave the board authority to set requirements for becoming a principal that go beyond those of the state. Under the 1988 Chicago School Reform Act, the board was prohibited from doing that.

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