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principals chicago

This major city knows the secret to improving student performance

Focusing on school leadership and high-quality principals yielded impressive results

A focus on high-quality principals in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) could serve as a best-practice model for districts across the nation, according to data indicating improved student performance and principal retention.

Over the past four years, as the number of strong principals in Chicago’s public schools has increased, so have student outcomes. District leaders have identified increases in both reading and math scores for elementary school students and have seen significant improvements in freshman on-track and graduation rates at the high school level.

“Principals are truly the instructional leaders of our schools and one of the key factors behind the improvements we’re seeing for all of Chicago’s public school students–improvements that are outpacing national averages,” said Dr. Janice Jackson, acting CEO of CPS, during a panel discussion on the district’s positive results. “We know that cultivating and retaining strong leaders is essential to our progress.”

Dr. LeViis Haney, currently in his sixth year as principal of Joseph Lovett Elementary in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, is an example of the difference a strong school leader can make.

(Next page: How one school dramatically improved its math and reading performance)

During the past two years, the school, which serves a student population that is more than 90 percent low-income, has seen math scores move from the 34th percentile nationally to the 98th and reading scores from 73rd to 98th, earning a Level 1+ rating–the highest performance rating for a Chicago Public School.

“Today, when you look at student academic growth in public schools across the city, every metric improves with strong school leadership,” said The Chicago Public Education Fund President and CEO Heather Y. Anichini. “We must continue to prioritize strategies and investments that recruit and retain strong school leaders.”

Data from The Fund’s annual Principal Engagement Survey indicates an increase in principal retention from 81 percent in 2015-2016 to 85 percent in 2016-2017, despite a slight decrease in satisfaction.

The survey also found a 13 percent increase in principals who indicated that CPS and/or their charter- management organization communicates a vision that is motivating–a response that increased to 52 percent from 39 percent last year. The past three years of insights gained from this survey have identified school funding, compliance requirements, compensation, communication, and personalized professional development as key issues impacting the retention of high-quality principals.

“Financial issues have been a real stressor for principals. Thankfully, we have seen progress through statewide school-funding reform and are working to build on that stability,” said Dr. Haney, who also participated on Monday’s panel. “It’s evident that the district is working to respond to the challenges and issues identified by public school leaders. In addition, participation in The Fund’s summer design program and professional learning communities have allowed me to continue to grow professionally and as a leader for my school.”

The Fund has been focused on increasing the amount of top public school principals in Chicago since 2013 by supporting and enabling talented school leaders through unique and robust professional-learning opportunities. A recent study by Boston Consulting Group noted that principals who participated in The Fund’s programs are 60 percent more likely to develop into high-performing principals and 15 percent more likely to remain high-performing upon receiving that designation.

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