Chicago's Principals Ready to Quit School

Chicago’s Principals Ready to Quit School

School still life with copyspace on chalkboard

Principals are even finding themselves out of compliance with federal special education mandates because the district has drastically cut special services citywide.

And with the last six district CEOs averaging just 14 months on the job, there are few administrative role models in the city that principals can point to, and no attractive career ladder within the district itself.

Once Chicago gets past this fiscal crisis, it’ll be time to radically restructure the district. We have to start running the system like a business so that we never again find ourselves running out of money in the middle of the school year and earning credit ratings two and three levels below junk-bond status.

We also have to run the district like a high-functioning school, putting children‚ not adults–at the center of every policy. Music, art, and language classes can no longer be viewed as amenities; these subjects are fundamental to a child’s brain development, validating students who are more creative than academic and expanding every child’s capacity to learn in the so-called “core” subjects.

In 2013, Chicago Public Education Fund raised $20 million to attract high-quality candidates for principals and increase the number of top principals in Chicago from 150 to 350 by 2018. (It’s a widely researched fact that low-income students of color, who make up 87% of CPS, most often receive inexperienced teachers and school leaders, and a new report shows this is particularly true in CPS.)

Then last year the Fund discovered that close to half of city principals plan to quit by 2018, the same year of their recruitment fulfillment goal. Smartly, they switched their primary focus from bringing in new talent to supporting and empowering the talent they already have to increase principal retention.

And though we boast about Chicago being a “city of neighborhoods,” there are too many black and brown children living in neighborhoods that are far less resourced than the neighborhoods of white children. Every principal in the city is forced to confront this ugly, government-created truth every day, and sometimes the systemic injustice is just too great to stand by silently and watch.

If I were a principal, I know I just couldn’t be silent. I’d probably get fired for being too vocal about the sins of the system. Or, if I felt that my voice wasn’t strong enough to change the system, I’d be tempted to quit.

The best way to recruit top-quality talent and keep principals in the work for at least five years is for CPS to promote teacher voice and provide teachers with meaningful leadership opportunities. Creating an intentional teacher-to-principal pipeline might keep the “Help Wanted” sign out of sight for longer intervals of time.

It’s time for all public and private sectors to become concerned–no, outraged–about the state of public education in Chicago. This city’s potential is only as great as the children we are training to lead it.

Marilyn Rhames has taught in district and charter schools in Chicago for the past 11 years and currently serves as alumni support manager at a K-8 charter school. A former New York City reporter, Rhames writes award-winning education commentary featured on Moody Radio in Chicago. She is a 2016 Surge Institute Fellow and the founder of the Christian nonprofit, Teachers Who Pray.