Administrators RECRUIT PRINCIPALS
Innovations in Education: Innovative Pathways to School Leadership
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LAUNCH (Leadership Academy and Urban Network for Chicago), Chicago, Ill.

Partners Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Chicago Principals & Administrators Association, Chicago Public Education Fund, Northwestern University
Program Initiated 1998
Admission Requirements Master's degree; Illinois Type 75 Administrative Credential; six years teaching experience; previous leadership
No. of Participants (2004) 21
Participant Demographics 2003
Gender: 76% female
Ethnicity: 44% African American, 28% Hispanic, 28% White
Length of Instructional Program Twelve months that include: 4-week summer institute, 10 full-day professional development classes; 5-day case study project; 2 (fall and spring) retreats; yearlong full-time internship.
Certification, Credits Earned Illinois Administrators Academy recertification hours

Like many large urban school districts, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) faces a shortage of well-qualified principals. But the need for quality leadership is made even more pressing by the district's ambitious improvement plan, Every Child, Every School. "Our goal," says CPS's chief executive officer, is "to make every Chicago public school a school of choice, and by that I mean that it must be a school that families of every income choose to attend, no matter what the obstacles or challenges." A core strategy for achieving that goal is to ensure that an effective principal guides every school.

Begun in 1998, the Leadership Academy and Urban Network for Chicago's aspiring principals--LAUNCH*--is one of five professional development programs created under the aegis of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association and operating as part of the Chicago Leadership Academies for Supporting Success (CLASS). CLASS seeks to develop leaders who embody the knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviors, and aspirations needed to pilot Chicago's schools to increased student achievement. Three of the programs provide professional development for principals at a different point on the experience continuum: aspiring, beginning, experienced. The fourth helps principals and other CPS leaders meet legislated requirements for professional development.

LAUNCH is guided by an executive director and a director--both recognized as exemplary principals--who provide direct, hands-on leadership for all program components: marketing, recruiting, selection, program development, curriculum design, follow-through with fellows, and assessment and evaluation. Their vision, shared by CLASS and supported by CPS, is having a highly qualified principal in every Chicago public school ready to lead that school to high achievement by continuously improving teaching and learning so that every child realizes his or her educational potential.

Selection Process

Marketing and recruitment activities seek to draw strong assistant principals, teacher-leaders and other promising individuals who meet the requirements. LAUNCH asks current principals and other administrators to nominate applicants who have demonstrated leadership potential. In addition, during its most recent recruitment campaign, LAUNCH sent 3,200 brochures to attract prospective applicants.

LAUNCH eligibility requirements include a master's degree in education, at least six years of experience as a teacher, an Illinois Type 75 Administrative Certificate in Supervision and Administration, and some prior leadership experience. Beginning in November 2003, the program posted its online application and requirements on the CLASS Web site. Applicants must submit a completed application packet by the date specified for a particular cohort.

A careful screening process by program directors and mentor principals seeks to identify the best possible candidates. The process considers a range of factors: thoroughness of application; coherence of ideas; recommendations for leadership potential; self-awareness; passion for improving student learning; and knowledge of leadership and school improvement and of instructional improvement research and literature. About 30 percent of applicants move forward to the interview process.

LAUNCH staff invite selected candidates to participate in panel interviews with three-person teams of experienced principals, administrators and representatives from the foundation community. Building on the application analyses, these probing interviews focus on candidates' ability to clearly state personal theory of leadership; self-awareness; passion for improving student learning; understanding of how to work through adults to achieve school improvement; knowledge and ability to articulate instructional improvement strategies; and ability to work as an effective team member. Also considered is the coherence and articulateness of candidates' verbal responses.

As a result of the 2004-05 application process, which began in November 2003, 21 candidates were accepted for the program out of an applicant pool of 175.

Program Design and Practical Learning Experiences

LAUNCH fellows participate in a rigorous educational program designed to accelerate, intensify, and deepen the knowledge, skills, and experience of principal candidates. It includes three integrated components: a Summer Leadership Academy, a yearlong internship, and the Urban Network.

The Leadership Academy is a five-week intensive program at the James L. Allen Center of the Kellogg Graduate School of Management on the campus of Northwestern University. Fellows benefit from the expertise of LAUNCH staff, faculty from the Kellogg Center, and nationally recognized researchers, authors, leaders, and educators from across the country and Canada. (The Kellogg Center provides its faculty and conference facilities to LAUNCH at no cost.) Fellows spend their first and last weeks on campus to develop a community of practice that will sustain their collegial interdependence.

The academy curriculum is aligned to seven leadership proficiencies directly related to Chicago's Educational Improvement Plan, Every Child, Every School: school leadership; parent involvement and community partnerships; creating a student-centered learning climate; professional development and human resource management; instructional leadership (improving teaching and learning); school management and daily operations; and interpersonal effectiveness.

Fellows assess themselves on these proficiencies, using a rating system that includes Mastery, Competency, Learning, and No Experience. Based on this self-assessment, they create their own professional growth plan, which is used to guide the apprenticeship experience and to assess progress throughout participation in the program.

After completing the summer academy, LAUNCH fellows begin a semester-long, full-time paid apprenticeship, working with mentor principals recognized throughout CPS as extraordinarily successful leaders. (Mentor principals, selected through an application and screening process, attend the Summer Leadership Academy and Mentor Seminars on coaching and feedback.) During the apprenticeship, funded by the district, each fellow completes both an elementary and a secondary experience.

For each site experience, fellows and mentor principals complete an apprenticeship contract that clearly delineates each person's responsibilities and roles. Fellows work to address proficiencies identified in their self-assessment and they maintain a portfolio that documents the planning and completion of pertinent proficiencies. During the apprenticeship, the group of fellows meets monthly for a full-day seminar with the LAUNCH staff and other members of the summer academy faculty.

Finally, the Urban Network provides ongoing professional development, support, and networking opportunities for LAUNCH fellows. The network is a dynamic and vibrant social structure that sustains fellows' commitment to LAUNCH goals, serving as a source of accurate information, expertise, assistance, and collegial interactions. It brings together fellows across all cohorts to participate in two-day seminar retreats each quarter--two at the Kellogg Center and others in similar conference settings. Fellows also participate in other events, such as issues meetings, career forums, and reunion dinners. The strength and liveliness of the Urban Network distinguishes LAUNCH from other principal preparation programs because it is a continuing source of professional support throughout the careers of its graduates. It also publishes an online newsletter that keeps fellows connected to one another and provides them with information updates, meeting schedules, and a resource directory.

Fellows graduate in June following their year-long apprenticeship, and are then eligible to apply for school leadership positions in Chicago schools. Fellows make a commitment to stay with the Chicago Public Schools for four years following their involvement in LAUNCH.

Success Factors

Over 188 individuals have completed the program, and of those, 65 currently serve as principals, while 64 are assistant principals. Because of the strong connection between LAUNCH and CPS's Every Child, Every School improvement strategy, CPS continues to support the program financially. Since 1999, CPS has invested over $4.8 million in LAUNCH. Other LAUNCH funding partners have included the Chicago Public Education Fund ($545,000 since 2000), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Northwestern University.

LAUNCH aspires to develop transformational leaders capable of turning ineffective schools into successful organizations that work for all students. It has translated the ISLLC standards into its own Principal Competencies, which form the foundation of the program's standards-based curriculum, instruction, and assessment. The five standards and 24 performance indicators represent the goals that successful candidates will achieve. To facilitate candidates' success, LAUNCH provides candidates with a self-assessment tool they are expected to utilize throughout their program experience. To support its use, LAUNCH has created an assessment guide that lays out its five standards and 24 performance indicators in a page-by-page format. Each page includes one of the five standards, its performance indicators, a description of each indicator at the highest performance level, a list of competency-based learning opportunities, and a four-stage rubric that describes developmental stages of competency, from rudimentary to transformative. This document enables candidates to continuously assess their progress, and it also provides a focus for coaching and mentoring. Candidates use this feedback to develop a professional growth plan, and then use that plan as a tool for setting developmental goals. Candidates document their work in a professional portfolio that is assessed by LAUNCH staff members, coaches, mentors and others, using a rubric that is well known to the candidates.

Several external evaluations have reported the progress and outcomes of LAUNCH in relation to its goals. The Chicago Public Education Fund supported several studies by the Consortium of Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. Early data suggest that LAUNCH principals perform at higher levels of effectiveness than their counterparts, have a deeper understanding of the school district's improvement plan, and are more effective in aligning their school improvements with the district's goals. Anecdotal data from district administrators describe LAUNCH principals as being able to step into the principalship and begin solving problems like a veteran.

The Broad Foundation selected LAUNCH as a showcase program in its benchmarking study. Broad plans to hold a two-day conference to highlight the findings of the study to allow other districts to learn from the knowledge and experiences of Chicago and then, with Broad support, accelerate the use of that knowledge to increase gains in student achievement by increasing the level and quality of school leadership.

One 1999-2000 fellow said she takes pride in being able to identify herself as "a LAUNCH leader" because the program's reputation is that it produces well-trained principals. She stated that the best thing about the program is, "Once you finish, you're not really finished. You always come back. As a principal, I'm always [facing dilemmas] that have no clear answers. If I have a problem or a question, I can call other principals from my cohort and we pool our expertise [to resolve the issue]."

LAUNCH staff and participants cite the following factors as key to the success of the program:

  • A vision of a new model of school leadership focused on instructional improvement and student learning;

  • A strongly held core belief that all children can and will learn when the principals of their schools are effective, knowledgeable instructional leaders;

  • An authentic, research-based, job-embedded curriculum;

  • Attention to adult learning conditions and personalized professional development plans;

  • Alignment of the curriculum with state and local leadership standards and performance indicators;

  • Consistent use of data and feedback to strengthen the program;

  • Direct and frequent feedback to candidates from faculty, field supervisors, and mentors; and

  • Tight articulation among standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

* LAUNCH is one of three preparation programs chosen by CPS to ready principals for district schools. The other two are the University of Illinois at Chicago and New Leaders for New Schools, which is also featured in this guide.


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Last Modified: 07/17/2006