December 16, 2019
Running a Chicago Public School (CPS) is akin to running a small town. Successful principals and assistant principals wear many hats and no two days are alike. They are responsible for
setting the vision and direction of the school, overseeing the academic and social development of hundreds of students, guiding the development of excellent teachers, and managing the physical operations of the building – all while trying to be responsive to the needs of the community, parents, and Chicago Public School leaders. Research shows that student achievement and school success is directly tied to the quality of the school leader.
So how can we help principals do the hard work of leading schools? Lloyd A. Fry Foundation grantees are working to do just that. They are critical to the development of future CPS principals and support current principals as they grow and refine their leadership skills on an ongoing basis.
Roberto Clemente Community Academy High School Assistant Principal Brad Rossi is still on his leadership path. Like most CPS principals and assistant principals, he started as a CPS teacher. He began as a high school English teacher and after 15 years, decided that the next step for him was school leadership.
Brad is now part of a school leadership team made up of a principal and two assistant principals at Clemente. In many ways, Clemente is a typical CPS neighborhood high school, and yet no two CPS high schools are the same. Clemente has a rich history and deep connection to multiple generations of families living in the Humboldt Park community. Of the roughly 670 students that attend Clemente, 93% are from low-income families and 68% are Latinx.
Brad and the rest of the school leadership team are working with the school community and several Fry Foundation grantees to ensure Clemente is a good place for both teachers and students. As a result of several initiatives instituted over the past several years, Clemente has seen improvements in its Freshman-On-Track and graduate rates.
To begin his path to school leadership – Brad turned to Fry Foundation grantee the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Education and its Center for Urban School Leadership (UIC) to pursue an EdD in Urban Education Leadership. Brad chose UIC because of its national reputation for developing excellent school leaders and because its coursework is focused on helping him develop the skills needed to support teachers and lead schools like Clemente. As part of the program, UIC connects aspiring principals to a full-year internship with a mentor principal so that they receive hands-on training and support while managing the day-to-day realities of a school. Brad spent a year at Lozano Elementary School as a resident principal under the guidance of a mentor principal. He believes this on-the-job experience, along with his UIC coursework, gave him insight and experience in how to help teachers refine their instructional skills. After his residency, Brad was hired as an assistant principal at Clemente. UIC provides Brad with three-years of on-the-job coaching from a UIC faculty member to help him successfully navigate his first years of school leadership.
This is because UIC understands that becoming a great principal doesn’t just happen when the degree is awarded. That’s when the hard work -and Brad would say – the learning really begins. And, this is where Fry Foundation grantees like the Network for College Success (NCS) and LEAP Innovations play critical roles. Clemente has adopted the NCS strategy of building teams focused on improving the number of freshmen on-track to graduate. NCS helped Clemente’s High School leadership team cultivate teacher leaders who are able to use school data to identify students at risk of slipping between the cracks. These teams work closely with these students to keep them engaged in school, keep their grades up, and on a path to graduation. As a result, Clemente is now outperforming the District on both Freshman-On-Track and the 5 Year Graduation Rates. These are the two primary measures that the District and the state use to assess how well a school is functioning.
LEAP Innovations is helping the Clemente leadership team bring personalized learning strategies to its math department. Personalized learning is an approach that aims to customize learning for each student's strengths, needs, skills and interests. Math teachers are now testing methods like “flipped classrooms.” A flipped classroom has students listening to pre-recorded lectures outside the classroom when they would typically being doing homework. During class time – instead of listening to the teacher lecture – students use their time to work with their classmates to discuss the pre-recorded lecture and complete assignments. Teachers act as coaches, guiding and supporting individual students based on their unique interests and needs. This approach engages students more fully in conversations about mathematics, gives students more control over their own learning, and increases their engagement in the classroom. Brad believes that these new approaches to teaching math have given teachers new insight into their students’ ability to master complex concepts and have given students more confidence in their own capacity to master the subject. He also sees more students enrolling in higher-level math coursework.
Brad’s school leadership journey continues. He recently joined the Educator Advisory Council of Advance Illinois, another Fry Foundation grantee. Advance Illinois is a statewide education organization that focuses on educational equity. The Education Advisory Council helps Advance Illinois understand the educational policies that impact educators and their students. Brad expects his participation on the Council will help him understand state and local education policy and be a better advocate for his school community.
Brad knows, and the Fry Foundation knows, that organizations like UIC, NCS, LEAP, and Advance Illinois are crucial supports to aspiring and sitting principals, and they are key partners for Brad in his efforts to improve CPS schools.
For more information on Chicago principals and what they do to improve outcomes for students visit two other Fry Foundation grantees:
The Chicago Public Education Fund partners with Chicago Public Schools, the City of Chicago and the local philanthropic community to build and sustain a culture of strong school leadership. Its website includes a series of reports on how strong principals build a culture of learning in their schools.
The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research has a research-practice partnership with Chicago Public Schools. It conducts research that can inform and assess policy and practice the Chicago Public Schools. Its recent report, “How Do Principals Influence Student Achievement?”, used data from hundreds of CPS schools to learn where principals were most effective at achieving high learning gains. Then, they visited 12 schools, interviewing principals and teachers, to see first-hand what principals in schools with improving learning gains were doing differently.