If only one school leader has a particular concern, then it is likely a personal concern. If 10 or 100 of us have the same concern, then it’s an issue we can organize around. No matter what the issue, the answer is almost always to join with others to think, plan, and act together. In short, the answer is to organize. CPAA is the vehicle through which school leaders can come together with others who have similar concerns and develop plans and strategies to address those problems. When school leaders leverage their ties to families, businesses, civil society organizations, and elected officials to push a common agenda, those leaders have the potential to be among the most powerful and effective forces for positive change in Chicago.
We must start small and act locally. Toward that end school leaders in local CPS Networks have formed organizing committees. One main goal of these committees is to identify an issue that school leaders are passionate about and work together with other school leaders to develop strategies and actions that will turn your passion into policy. The issues listed below represent those that have surfaced most often in our one-on-one conversations, in focus groups, and through surveys.
Severe understaffing (in regular education, special education, support staff, and the substitute pool) leaves school leaders and their staff members overworked and leaves students underserved. Indeed, CPS is the most understaffed school district in Illinois. The average Illinois school with 600 students has 59 staff members. The average Chicago school with 600 students has just 37 staff members. That’s 22 fewer staff to serve the same number of students. This understaffing must be addressed, starting with quota assistant principal and case manager positions.
Burdensome and redundant compliance mandates that have immense opportunity costs. Those opportunity costs are what school leaders are not able to spend our time and labor doing for our schools as a result of spending that time and labor on needless mandated tasks, paperwork, and meetings that have little to no impact on the growth and development of teachers and students.
The district has institutionalized a system that undermines and ignores the successes and student growth in neighborhood schools by using a severely flawed school rating formula (SQRP) that punishes schools for the impact of factors that are beyond the control of schools. The fact that our most impoverished students come to school on day one of kindergarten already behind their peers from middle and upper-income families clearly demonstrates that the academic gaps are not caused by schools, but by the gross inequality of wealth and power in Chicago. From exposure to lead in the paint in their homes and the water they drink, to exposure to trauma and inadequate health care, the city and state’s failures of our children take a tragic toll on their cognitive, social, emotional, and academic development. As educators, we accept the responsibility to do all we can to help students grow and develop. At the same time, we demand our public officials address the inequities in housing, parental income and provide health and social services that will prevent most poverty-related academic delays from developing in the first place. Business and public officials must stop deflecting the responsibility for their failures onto our public schools. These officials must do their part to deliver students to our schools ready to learn, and we, in turn, will be in a better position to meet our deeply felt responsibility to ensure that all our students realize their full human potential.
Charter schools use unethical tactics to draw students out of public schools, and equally problematic expulsion and push-out tactics to send students they don’t want back to their neighborhood schools. These charter schools are being given unfair advantages that mask their failures and their mediocrity at the expense of public schools that do far better than charters on a level playing field.
There is little time for critical professional development for our teachers and other staff members. There is also little to no mentoring, professional development, collaboration, networking or other supports needed by new and veteran principals and assistant principals.
The privatized custodial contract with Aramark/Sodexo is burdening school leaders with the task of holding custodians, engineers, and the companies that are supposed to be supervising them, accountable. This creates additional opportunity costs for the staff and students that school leaders are supposed to be serving.
While we recently received a modest raise, Chicago’s school leaders--especially assistant principals--are still underpaid in comparison to school leaders in nearby districts.