How long principals, teachers stay might hint at school quality

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Lincoln Elementary School has one of the highest teacher-retention rates in Chicago. | Sun-Times file photo

Some of Chicago’s top-rated public schools also appear to be great places to work.

Such as Sheridan Math and Science Academy, on the Near Southwest Side, where 97.6 percent of the teachers who worked there three years ago are still there.

“I definitely think we have a lot of respect from parents and the administration,” said Tricia Munoz, the school’s librarian, who’s taught in some capacity since 2003 for a principal who’s been there since 2007.

So much respect, Munoz said, that when one young teacher announced she was leaving to take another job, the others at the Level 1+ school were incredulous, wondering, “Oh my gosh, why’d she leave?”

Sheridan has one of the top teacher retention rates in the entire city, according to detailed data released Friday by the Illinois State Board of Education, third to Lincoln Elementary School in tony Lincoln Park in first place, and Decatur Classical School, a test-in elementary school in West Rogers Park, at second place.

The data show that the schools where teachers and principals stick around the longest don’t typically serve the city’s poorest children, and that some schools with high turnover also struggle academically.

Some of the schools with low retention just landed on the charter academic watch list; others have undergone massive change in recent years.

The University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research also has documented how high turnover rates may lead to disorganization at a school.

Munoz said she’s seen her school’s stability improve trust with the students. “It helps them feel more comfortable in class, take more risks. They know what we expect,” she said.

ISBE began reporting teacher retention — the number of teachers who remain at a school after three years — and principal turnover — the number of principals leading a school over six years — for the first time last year, calling these stats one indicator of a school’s overall health.

But last year, considerable errors in how the data were reported prevented a fair examination of which schools did and did not churn through staff.

Like last year, the state has an average principal retention rate of 1.9 principals in a six-year period. CPS’s is a bit higher at 2.2, and for charter schools, it’s 4.7.

Schools statewide still retain about 85 percent of their teachers while CPS keeps 81.8 percent of instructors, according to ISBE, which analyzes names on school rosters in its count. The rate falls to about 60.1 percent for charters.

As for principals, about 220 schools of CPS’ 660 schools have had a single one for six years. About 220 more schools have had just two.

Clarice Berry, head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, pointed to geography, saying, “You’ll notice that there is a regional or a city neighborhood difference. North Side principals stay there for eons. The South Side principals leave.”

South and West side schools have also been the targets of more drastic changes than North Side ones, she explained.

On the whole, high schools have had less stable leadership than elementary schools.

CPS education chief Janice Jackson chalked that up to “complexities at the high school level” unseen in most elementary schools.

“The sheer size and scope is one,” said Jackson, a high school principal for 11 years. Another factor was the amount of time a high school needed. Extra-curricular activities often ran into the night, she said, adding, “that was a demanding job, the musicals, the plays … even if you love the job,+ and I loved being a principal.”

As for the city’s growing charter sector, ISBE couldn’t say how many staffers have cycled through each school, because in many cases, the numbers were not broken out by campus.

Urban Prep’s chief academic officer Lionel Allen couldn’t believe his three campuses showed, for a second year, zero teachers remaining, saying, ”We continue to be frustrated by the incorrect data that are reported for our schools and the lack of transparency around how these metrics are calculated.”

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