Dozens of principals quitting CPS, even from “plum schools”

CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson, shown here at the January board meeting, says that "the longer Gov. Rauner stands in the way of equitably funding education, the more CPS will be at a competitive disadvantage for retaining our best principals and teachers."

Chicago Public Schools officials say 54 principals have resigned or retired so far this school year, the highest number in the past four years.

The number could go even higher as the school year comes to an end, given the looming threat of budget cuts and no end in sight to the financial impasse in Springfield.

Though district officials say the “retirement rates of both principals and teachers are in line with previous years,” they blamed Gov. Bruce Rauner for standing “in the way of equitably funding education.”

In a statement, Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said that “the longer the Governor’s intransigence drags on, the more concerned we’ll become about potential losses” of principals and teachers.

But principals say that CPS is mostly to blame for the wave of departures, including those from prominent, well-regarded high schools such as Lane Tech, Lake View, Schurz and Foreman, as well as Palmer and Edison Park elementaries.

“They’re leaving what were considered plum schools,” says Clarice Berry, outgoing president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. “These are people with schools that at one time were the best of the best to have. When principals are walking away from those schools, you know there is trouble.”

(Editor’s note: A previous version of this graphic incorrectly showed 54 resignations and 21 retirements instead of 54 total departures. Catalyst regrets the error.)

Berry says she’s heard from several more principals who are thinking about submitting their resignation letters at the end of June.

A CPS spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions Tuesday about how many principals have completed the district’s eligibility process and are available to work next fall.

The high-profile departures come as CPS says it will expand its Independent Schools Program, which was started last fall to give top-performing principals more freedom and flexibility. On Monday, district officials said it would double the size of the program to 54 principals.

“It’s just like locking the barn door after the horses are gone,” says Berry. “Principals are beleaguered.”

Former Stevenson Elementary Principal Katherine Konopasek says she was turned down for the program last year and decided to take an early retirement in January. She’s one of 21 principals to retire so far this year.

“If they would have given me that independence that I deserved, I wouldn’t have left when I left,” says Konopasek, who had three years left on her contract at the top-rated school, which is on the Far Southwest Side.

Konopasek says the district has “devalued, demeaned and demoralized principals. They don’t support principals. They don’t listen to what principals know is best for their building.”

No support, no money, wasteful spending

Last fall, a survey from the Chicago Public Education Fund found that 40 percent of principals said they will look for a new job in the next three years.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed said they want to spend less time on compliance and paperwork, such as filling out forms related to teacher evaluations and completing data requests. Just 33 percent wanted an increase in pay.

Former Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere, who is taking the helm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association next month, says principals are looking for jobs in districts where “the political leadership has demonstrated commitment to supporting schools and students.”

He says three interrelated factors are to blame. “We have a state that won’t pass a budget. If they do pass a budget, we have a [state] funding formula that is inadequate. If they correct the funding formula, you have a district that’s proven that it will spend money recklessly and wastefully… All three of those things have at some level or another created a degree of uncertainty and frustration among principals.”

It’s not just principals who are looking to leave CPS. At Orr High School, seven teachers have already announced they’re resigning at the end of the school year. That’s close to a third of the tiny school’s teaching staff, says Cy Hendrickson, an eight-year math teacher at the struggling Austin school. He says cuts to personnel and support services, including a clinical mental health counseling program, have made it an impossible environment to do well in.

Last week he decided to take a teaching job in Oak Park.

“One of the reasons I felt like I had to leave is I didn’t see it getting any better,” says Hendrickson, who worries about the students he’s leaving behind. “At least in the near to medium term I only see it getting worse. Even if [the district] keeps current per-student funding levels the same next year, that’s still way too few resources for a school like Orr.”

A CPS spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for details on the number of teacher retirements or resignations, although she said the retirement rate was similar to that of recent years.