Chicago's gains highlight importance of focusing on high-quality school leaders
- Over the past four years, student outcomes in Chicago Public Schools have dramatically increased as the district has focused on recruiting, training and retaining high-quality principals, eSchool News reports.
- Data from The Chicago Public Education Fund’s annual Principal Engagement Survey showed principal retention rates have improved from 81% in 2015-2016 to 85% in 2016-2017, despite a slight decrease in satisfaction and a 13% increase in principals who indicated that the school district “communicates a vision that is motivating.” However, school funding, compliance requirements, compensation, communication and personalized professional development were identified as key issues impacting the retention of high-quality principals.
- The Chicago Public Education Fund has focused on offering quality professional development opportunities for principals, with the result that participants in the programs are 60% more likely to develop into high-performing principals.
Thirty years ago, Chicago Public Schools were considered the worst in the nation. However, the district is now improving at a rate higher than 96% of the nation, according to a recent study by Stanford University. District leaders are pointing to the increased number of high-quality principals as the reason for the improvement, illustrating the importance for school districts to cultivate great school leaders as a strategy for success.
The key is cultivating these principals, not just attracting and retaining them. This cultivation occurs through intense professional development and through the creation of principal pipelines by identifying and training future school leaders. Principals are on the front lines of schools every day and need training if they are to, likewise, train and motivate their own educational “troops” on the path to victory. While professional development for teachers is often a high priority, professional development for principals is often over-looked.
What qualities mark an effective principal? The Wallace Foundation spent a decade researching that topic and suggested five key practices that lead to success:
- Shaping a vision of academic success for all students, one based on high standards;
- Creating a climate hospitable to education so safety, a cooperative spirit and other foundations of fruitful interaction prevail;
- Cultivating leadership in others so teachers and other adults assume their part in realizing the school vision;
- Improving instruction to enable teachers to teach at their best and students to learn at their utmost; and
- Managing people, data and processes to foster school improvement.
As one author noted in a 2015 article from Great Schools, “Great principals believe that the problems of the school are their problems, and they never stop trying to solve them.”