Principal removal and REAL parent empowerment

Last week, a Parent Revolution-backed petition drive collected enough signatures to force out the well-respected principal of Weigand Avenue Elementary School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. According to the article, 21 out of 22 teachers at the school have asked for transfers in protest.

That’s parent empowerment?

We’re skeptical, in part because of the many deceptive tactics used by the well-funded Parent Revolution astroturfers – most recently exposed here for paying their so-called parent activists to promote the disastrous “Won’t Back Down” movie and to go around the U.S. testifying about the parent trigger. We also know that parents have little or no voice in the running of charter schools, which is the form of “reform” Parent Revolution prefers.

For contrast, let’s take a look at how Chicago’s local school council (LSC) model addresses the need for strong principal leadership. PAA supports the LSC as a model for effective parent empowerment – see our position paper, The Empowerment Parents Want: The LSC Model for School Reform.

Local School Councils (LSCs) were created by the Chicago School Reform law of 1988 in response to frustration with the lack of progress and accountability in Chicago’s public schools. LSCs are duly-elected bodies at nearly every Chicago Public Schools (CPS) elementary, middle and high school. Unlike other school site governing bodies, parents hold the most seats on the LSC, and the LSC chairperson must be a parent.

The LSC is not an advisory body – it has real decision making authority in the school including hiring the school principal, evaluating him or her every year, deciding whether or not to renew his or her contract after four years, and approving the entire school budget and annual strategic plan (called the school improvement plan). This is the strongest school site-based management system in the nation.

Illinois state law requires LSCs to be trained on all aspects of their duties including principal hiring and evaluation. Unlike other elected officials, LSC members can and have been removed if they do not complete this training.

When the end of the principal’s four-year contract approaches, LSCs are required to carry out an evaluation of the current principal over the course of the entire contract before deciding if they will renew it for another four years.

If they choose not to renew the contract, the principal has the right under state law to request an independent hearing officer’s review of the decision. Hearing officers come from the American Arbitration Association. PAA’s Chicago affiliate Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) helped write the independent arbitration process into the law, which eliminates the usual district-appointed hearing officers who generally rubber-stamp district decisions. Elaine K. B. Siegel and Associates, a local education labor law firm, has represented LSCs in nearly all of these arbitration hearings; the law requires the district to pay the LSCs’ legal costs. As of yet, LSCs have won every review (i.e. their decision to fire a principal has been upheld).

Many LSCs have chosen not to renew a principal’s contract. However, removing a principal before the contract is up is very rare. It is called removal for cause and generally only happens when the district agrees and pressures the principal to resign or take an administrative job elsewhere in the system.

The LSC process is a much fairer and more deliberate way of dealing with replacing a principal than the arbitrary one allowed under the trigger law.

There are certainly challenges and failures in the Chicago LSC system. For example, the district consistently interferes with LSC functions, and district training is of poor quality. Independent LSC training groups like PURE have been defunded as a result of their opposition to corporate reform, so there is less quality LSC training available. But overall, Chicago’s LSC-style principal hiring and evaluation system has been working well for 25 years, carried out in the context of a real system of parent empowerment.

More on LSCs here and on LSC success here.

Posted on by Julie Woestehoff Posted in Misc

One Response to Principal removal and REAL parent empowerment

  1. Pingback: Principal removal and REAL parent empowerment | Parents Across America ← NPE News Briefs