Educators who reviewed the School Board’s preliminary plan for screening principal candidates say setting clear standards is critical.

Don Moore, executive director of Designs for Change, sees the proposal as a move back to a centrally controlled patronage system for principal appointment.

The policy fails to set detailed standards for meeting the requirements, he explains, leaving much to the discretion of central office administrators. “It provides no confidence to people that they are going to be judged fairly.”

He adds that the new requirements likely will discourage talented applicants from outside Chicago because it will be easier for them to secure positions elsewhere.

In contrast, Margaret Harrigan, a former CPS official who now instructs master’s degree candidates in educational leadership at DePaul University, applauds the proposed requirements, which include earning passing marks on both a written exam and a writing sample, and successful completion of an interview with central office administrators.

“They are taking a thorough look at individuals who are going to be responsible for the education of untold numbers of children,” she says. “The more they can find out about a potential principal, the better.”

Harrigan trusts that central office will establish fair guidelines for judging candidates on each of the proposed requirements. She says that standards for the interview, for instance, might include ability to speak correctly and fluently, to use good judgment and to think critically.

Clarice Jackson Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, says she wouldn’t have a problem with the interview, writing sample and other requirements if the standards for meeting them were clear. “We’d like to have the criteria spelled out before the policy is approved—not afterwards,” she says.

The association won’t support the draft policy as written but is in negotiation with central office, she reports. “We’re hopeful that we will come to a meeting of the minds.”

Pamela Clarke, associate director of the business group Leadership for Quality Education, thinks that the new requirements should be part of a broader effort to better educate local school councils (LSCs) on principal selection and evaluation.

Principals report to both their LSCs and their area instructional officers, yet neither group has any contact with the other, she observes. “There needs to be some way of getting the LSCs and AIOs into a dialogue about how to hire a good principal : What does your particular school need in a principal? ” she explains.

Central office has yet to come up with a strategy for facilitating such a dialogue, she says. “In fact, I think they’ve resisted it.”

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