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Principal resignations rise under Rahm; 42 in past school year

The resignation of the principal of Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy was one of 42 in the last academic year at Chicago Public Schools. | Sun-Times file photo

Forty-two Chicago Public Schools principals resigned this year, the most since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office.

And 23 principals, out of about 515 total, decided to retire, a number somewhat higher than the last several years. The 65 school leaders departing this past school year saw more budget cuts, including unprecedented cuts midyear. Since 2011, the next highest number was 37 resignations in 2014. In 2012, only 13 departed, but 96 retired that year.

Two of the most recent resignations happened at Pulaski International Elementary School, 2230 W. McLean Ave., and Hamline Elementary School, 4747 S. Bishop St. in the Back of the Yards.

Principals in high-profile schools have already stepped down, including D’Andre Weaver, credited with leading a turnaround at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy High School; Lake View High School’s Scott Grens; brand-new Lane Tech High School principal Kathryn Anderson; and Isamar Vargas Colón from Maria Saucedo Elementary Scholastic Academy in Little Village. CPS declined to provide a full list.

Some moved out of state. Some landed big promotions in the suburbs.

CPS’ chief education officer Janice Jackson acknowledged the financial pressures, saying, “Our principals and teachers are leaving for jobs where their district doesn’t have to take hundreds of millions of dollars out of the classroom to fund their pensions.”

Ousted CPS principal Troy LaRaviere, who recently took office as head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said the pressure has been building for years.

“It’s the cumulative effects of being consistently under the weight of a district that finds one way after another to undermine the efforts [principals] put forth on behalf of their students,” he said. “Our ability to do our job depends on resources, and they take more of them away every year impairing our ability to do our job more and more.”

Until Thursday, when a temporary state budget was finally approved, principals were bracing themselves for cuts to their school budget of 26 percent on average. That was on top of cuts earlier in the school year to special education and warnings to stockpile cash so CPS could afford $676 million toward teacher pensions. They still don’t have budgets for September — and won’t for at least another week.

In recent years, the district privatized school cleaning, taking away principals’ power to manage janitors in their buildings. CPS shuttered a record 50 neighborhood schools. Budgets were cut sharply the same summer that former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pushed a $20 million no-bid contract for principal training that participants immediately denounced as shoddy.

Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principal and Administrators Association, said principal departures are a result of CPS undermining those administrators. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principal and Administrators Association, said principal departures are a result of CPS undermining those administrators. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

“We stood there as they justified these cuts and then watched as they spent lavishly on SUPES,” said LaRaviere, principal of Blaine Elementary School at that time.

The not-for-profit Chicago Public Education Fund has studied principal retention and invested private dollars into discerning how to keep good school leaders.

“For each one of those schools, the retention conversation starts the minute the principals leave,” executive director Heather Anichini told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Fund is paying attention to this year’s exodus — and surveying principals about why they’re going — but Anichini isn’t yet troubled by the numbers because 70 to 100 principal jobs tend to open up every year.

“While certainly it is true there are mitigating circumstances this year that haven’t existed in years past, it’s important that we not lose sight: This is an ongoing challenge for us,” she said.

CPS chief education officer Janice Jackson isn’t surprised that some principals would leave for districts without Chicago’s financial challenges. | Sun-Times file photo
CPS chief education officer Janice Jackson isn’t surprised that some principals would leave for districts without Chicago’s financial challenges. | Sun-Times file photo

Fund research suggests that principals want things like autonomy; training tailored to their individual needs; and a sharp reduction in required paperwork more than raises.

This spring, CPS doubled the number to 54 principals who are free from the more cumbersome aspects of district oversight in the Independent Schools Program.

And officials hope that the stopgap budget passed late last week — which kicks an additional $600 million into CPS coffers — also ought to staunch the tide, though the schools system still has to find an additional $300 million to plug its $1 billion projected budget deficit.

“With the education funding compromise from Springfield this week, CPS will be able to prevent disruptions to classrooms and continue to help principals build on the academic gains their students are making — and that gives our principals a strong reason to stay,” CPS spokesman Michael Passman said in an email.

And plenty of candidates wait in the wings for consideration by Local School Councils, CPS said. About 1,000 people are considered eligible for the job, about 475 of whom already serve as CPS principals.