On Tuesday, April 10, Amundsen High School‘s Local School Council will meet in a closed door session to begin the search for a new principal, following the announcement in March that Carlos Munoz will retire at the end of the school year.
With LSC elections just a week away, the timing of the Amundsen conclave may strike outsiders as a case of jumping the gun. Shouldn’t the new LSC choose the new principal? Technically, no. Much in the way that an outgoing Congress can still enact laws between election and inauguration days, current LSCs are firmly in charge until July 1, the date when new LSC members are officially seated.
In a March 30 email to staff, Lane Tech‘s retiring principal, Antoinette LoBosco, stated: “Our current LSC will be tasked with the search for and selection of a new principal. Since my retirement date is not until June 30, 2012, I am confident there is time for them to work through the process and have someone in place on July 1, 2012.”
While a sense of continuity is likely welcome at well-run schools, those hungering for change–in the way Lake View High School‘s hiring of Lilith Werner as principal last year rejuvenated that school’s community–may find themselves stuck with more of the same even if they vote for a wholesale LSC shake-up in the coming election.
Amundsen, 5110 N. Damen Ave., is certainly one to keep an eye on, with the principal selection process occurring at a critical juncture for the school. In speech after speech, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) has hammered home the point that quality neighborhood schools are key to a neighborhood’s economic vitality. While considerable strides have been made at the elementary level, 80 percent of area eighth graders are opting for high schools other than Amundsen or Lake View, sometimes fleeing to the suburbs rather than take a chance on a school just blocks away. “That’s the larger problem,” said Pawar at last month’s meeting of the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve got to figure out how to keep families here.”
What concerns parents about Amundsen: Though rightfully proud of its IB program and small learning communities, the school earned a”Level 3″ ranking of low academic standing from CPS, placing the school on probation. By comparison, Lake View, 4015 N. Ashland Ave., is a Level 2 school (good standing) and Lane Tech, 2501 W. Addison St., is a Level 1 (excellent). Only 15.6 percent of Amundsen students scored 20 or higher on the ACT, versus a CPS average of 24.9 percent, 25.2 percent at Lake View and 88.7 percent at Lane Tech.
In terms of Annual Yearly Progress, which is measured against statewide targets, Amundsen continues to lag its peers: 25.6 percent of students met or exceeded state AYP standards in reading against a target of 85 percent. In math, the results were 21 percent meeting or exceeding standards, also against a target of 85 percent. Contrast those figures with Lake View, where 37 percent of students met or exceeded reading standards and 33.1 percent met or exceeded math standards. At Lane Tech, those figures skyrocket to 88 percent and 90.2 percent for reading and math, respectively.
Perhaps more telling, in a survey of Amundsen’s “climate,” parents ranked as “weak” their satisfaction with the school’s environment, their engagement with the school and the school’s leadership. Clearly Amundsen is being challenged to step up its game. The question is whether the sitting LSC is up to the task.
All five current Amundsen LSC parent representatives are running unopposed for reelection (Amundsen is one parent short of a full complement); their stump speeches at a recent LSC candidate forum emphasized a desire to be involved in their particular child’s education and concern for their student’s safety. Conversely, eight community members are running for two slots, suggesting greater interest in the school externally than internally.
Some in the Amundsen community seem unaware that Ald. Pawar has raised the school’s profile among its neighbors. At the March LSC meeting and candidate forum, Stephen Reynolds of the Winnemac Park Neighbors presented a proposal to form a “Friends of Amundsen” group. “Right now, you have an outpouring of interest,” Reynolds told the LSC.
“What’s the source?” asked LSC teacher representative Scott Reed. “Why is there a flood [of interest]?”
Approving the “Friends of” proposal would send a strong signal from Amundsen’s LSC that it’s prepared to engage the wider community. (In an email exchange with Center Square Journal, Reynolds stated his belief that the “Friends of” proposal will be approved at the next LSC meeting. “Amundsen, so far, has been very receptive,” he said.) Another would be to open up the principal selection process, making it as inclusive and transparent as possible.
As a blueprint, Amundsen, Lane Tech and Burley Elementary–among the scores losing their principal at the end of this school year–could steal a page from the playbook of Audubon Elementary, 3500 N. Hoyne Ave. The National Blue Ribbon school hired a new principal, Ken Fitzner, just this March after learning in October 2011 that outgoing principal John Price had accepted a different position within CPS administration.
Maria Griffith was the Audubon LSC member selected to chair the principal selection committee, which included participants outside the LSC.
“We really were trying to represent the teachers voices and the parents voices as opposed to ‘I like this person,’” said Griffith. To that end, Audubon surveyed parents at the outset of the search and set up a Gmail account solely for principal selection, which allowed individuals to send questions to members of the committee, and gave the committee a convenient means of keeping the community up to speed on key milestones, such as the timing of the first and second rounds of interviews.
“You really do want this to be a whole-school enterprise, not just the work of a few,” Griffith said.
Audubon’s teachers were invited to sit in on the second round of interviews and share their thoughts about candidates. Once the list of potential principals was narrowed down to two finalists, the selection committee hosted a public forum. Residents were asked to submit questions in advance and were given anonymous comment cards to rate the finalists. Though ultimately the LSC had the final say in the hiring decision, all of this feedback was taken into account, according to Griffith.
“Schools have a big responsibility in keeping the community healthy,” she said. “The group of people that were involved in this process took it very seriously.”