Chicago Public Schools Principal Troy LaRaviere, looking into the camera, says new principal autonomy program will do more harm than good. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

Opinion: CPS principal program will prove empty, harmful

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SHARE Opinion: CPS principal program will prove empty, harmful

On Monday, principals across the city received an email from CPS’s central office announcing yet another program that will do more harm than good.

It stated:“In order to further develop and retain our experienced and high-achieving principals, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools are launching the Independent Schools Principal (ISP) program. In this program, a cohort of 25 high-performing CPS principals will receive greater autonomy from several existing CPS structures.”


The letter goes on to list certain “autonomies” and “stipulations.” They are as follows:

Autonomies:1.Exempt from network oversight; 2.Modified principal evaluation; 3.Continued access to School Support Centers; 4.Increased flexibility with budget.

Stipulations:1.Opt-out of access to Network support and professional development; 2.Opt-in to a professional learning community with other ISPs; 3. Maintain or increase the School Rating Level; 4.Participate in pilot research; 5.Participate in external site visits; 6.Respond to direct Central Office inquiries.

The list of stipulations is longer than the list of autonomies. That signals a net loss for autonomy. Furthermore, only one of the autonomies listed is an actual autonomy (exempt from network oversight). The other so-called autonomies don’t come close to living up to the term. For example:

#2: A modified evaluation is not autonomy; it is a modified evaluation.

#3: All CPS principals currently have access to School Support Centers.Only in the spin-laden world of CPS can “continued” access to something you already have access to be thought of as more autonomy.

#4: The last time CPS offered us “increased flexibility,” they took hundreds of thousands (in some cases millions) of dollars away from each of our schools and gave us the “autonomy” to piece together an instructional program in the wake of their slash-and-burn budgeting. Given CPS’ track record, why would any principal with a working long-term memory trust the district’s latest promise of autonomy?

Furthermore, removing your best principals from their regular principal meetings is a backward and thoughtless strategy for improving an entire district. Our network chief (network 4) often has two to three principals lead workshops for their colleagues in our meetings. These workshops illustrate thoughtful approaches to solving problems that many of us have in common. What happens when you separate the most effective principals from their colleagues who can no longer use their ideas to benefit the tens of thousands of students they serve?

To add insult to injury, CPS has decided to tempt high performing principals away from their colleagues with an unspecified offer of additional funding.

As expected, the elitist and separatist approach of CPS officials is rearing its divisive head once again. After all, this is the same cash-strapped district that decided to take $60 million it doesn’t have and spend it to build yet another selective enrollment school. Their approach to principals is no different; segregate the top performers from the colleagues who need them most, and leave the latter to fend for themselves.

Intelligent school systems offer incentives for such principals to take on additional leadership responsibilities among their colleagues who are doing well, and among those who are struggling. Our district officials however have opted to do the opposite; they offer incentives for principals to segregate themselves from the colleagues who need them most. To anyone concerned with the overall health of our system, this makes no sense.

In summary, there is no credible evidence of increased autonomy offered in CPS’s description of this initiative, and the initiative completely ignores effective school system practices that encourage effective principals to collaborate with colleagues who need them.

This initiative is among the first major announcements of the latest schools CEO to be appointed by Rahm Emanuel: Forrest Claypool. It is also — unfortunately — an indication that his new leadership position will not signal a change in the leadership direction of CPS. It is business as usual. Unfortunately — for the students and educators in our district — business as usual for CPS under Emanuel is as backward as it gets.It’s time for an elected school board.

TroyLaRaviere is principal of Blaine Elementary School andchair of the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education.

LaRaviereblogs at

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