2020-21 End of Year Report The Chicago Public Education Fund

The 2020-21 school year was one of constant change. In and out of schools, the physical, mental, and economic pressures of the COVID-19 crisis remained a reality. The nation continued to reckon with the history and immediacy of racism, while Chicago continued to struggle with issues of policing, segregation, and gun violence. In schools, educators, students, and families grappled with learning remotely, with a return to hybrid in-person learning, and with all the challenges of trying to recreate community without predictability.

Through it all, school leaders worked side-by-side with students, parents, and community members to process tremendous grief while addressing both the technical and adaptive challenges wrought by these combined crises. To support them, The Fund team and our partners provided responsive opportunities for professional learning and peer connections. We supported 346 Chicago public school leaders who collectively serve more than 150,000 students through 14 virtual programs. This update highlights some of the many ways our programs worked to help educators support students during the 2020-21 school year. It includes our final program participation numbers along with important information on the demographics and experiences of our participants, before looking ahead to our strategy and hopes for next school year.

Recap: 2020-21 School Year

The 2020-21 school year began with entirely remote instruction. In March 2021, following negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union, pre-K, special education cluster students, and elementary students had the option of returning to five-day in-person instruction. In April 2021, high school students could also return to school buildings with different in-person and hybrid models depending on student body size, student opt-in rates, and a school building’s capacity for physical distancing. These two efforts required educators to deeply engage with their school communities, lead their school teams through ambiguity, and help students transition.

This year also saw the continuation of national movements about racial inequality. On social media and at Chicago Board of Education meetings, leaders acknowledged movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter and #StopAAPIHate, and specific events that deeply affected school communities, such as the storming of the U.S. Capitol by white supremacists on January 6, 2021, and the police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in April 2021. These events, in addition to continued loss and health inequities exacerbated by COVID-19, necessitated that principals and their school communities continue to focus on social-emotional health and healing from myriad forms of trauma.

The Fund remained committed to supporting principals and their school communities through these challenges. As we always have, we grounded our support in what educators told us they need. We distributed over $2 million in direct-to-school, flexible grant funds to more than 200 schools hardest hit by the pandemic through the COVID-19 Comeback Fund to meet their immediate needs during the pandemic. We addressed schools’ strategic planning needs surrounding virtual and unfinished learning by supporting Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS’) reopening working groups, sharing remote and hybrid learning resources with educators, and providing school leaders access to professional development offered by Relay Graduate School of Education. Lastly, we aimed to elevate principals' perspectives and create room for healing and collaboration at the district, city, and state level through storytelling and informational events, collaboration times, focus groups, youth enrichment work, and productive dialogue through our Community of Practice.

The Fund remained nimble and responsive to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the face of considerable challenges, educators continued to engage with us and one another to improve. In total, 346 leaders in 258 schools across the city completed Fund programming this year. Our network includes educators leading in every type of public school — charter and district, elementary and high school — and we worked closely with 11 partners who provided educator-centered programming, coaching, and support. This year, all of our programs remained virtual to ensure accessibility and safety.

Among participants, 95% reported being “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with their program experience. In addition, 95% of leaders reported that their program experience helped them improve as school leaders, and 84% of leaders reported that their program experience helped them improve student attendance and engagement throughout the school year. Looking ahead to next year, 93% of leaders reported that their Fund program participation has better prepared them for fall 2021. We know that our programs continue to provide valuable time and space for peers to share problems, brainstorm solutions, and collaborate.

We did see 52 (15%) of school leaders not complete their full year of programming. This drop in participant numbers was largely driven by a decrease in attendance for the Chicago Principal Endorsement Program. Through conversations with educators, we understand that the time and energy required to reopen schools forced many of them to deprioritize their own professional development in order to focus on their school communities. Many school leaders also felt exhausted and burned out by the stress of the ongoing pandemic.

Looking Ahead: 2021-22 School Year

We are proud of our work with current and aspiring school leaders in 2020-21, and our learnings will inform our strategy in 2021-22. In addition to our programs, our annual Principal Engagement Survey, which began accepting responses on June 21, will help develop and refine future strategies to bolster principal satisfaction and retention; we will publish results on The Partnership website this fall. Additionally, The Fund continues to track principal transitions to ensure that more strong school leaders are placed in schools.

In 2021-22, we will again serve school leaders at scale, working with at least 300 current and aspiring principals. Specifically, our revamped 2021-22 Summer Design Program (SDP), made possible through the generous investments of our stakeholders, has been designed around our learnings from supporting principals and their teams during the pandemic. This summer and fall, we will give schools the time and space to apply design-thinking to challenges in the year ahead. We will then pair them with an expert partner or Professional Learning Community (PLC) to support the implementation of their highest-priority strategies for accelerating student learning. We anticipate that next year will be a time of healing, collaboration, and rich learning.

SDP is just one example of how we continue to be a stable support in the face of several challenges that Chicago’s students face. In the near term, CPS has announced that schools will return for five-day in-person schooling in the fall, an important step toward predictability, but the district will also be navigating uncertainty from a leadership transition. In the long term, we know that school leaders and their communities will continue to face challenges from the pandemic and a national movement against racial injustice. The process of rebuilding from the pandemic will require as much investment as supporting communities through the pandemic; we will also remain nimble and responsive to challenges that lie ahead.

For more information about each individual program, please see our detailed program overview and participant data below.

Program Detail

Aspiring Principal Programs

APs Rising | 57 aspiring principals

APs Rising is a suite of targeted opportunities designed to develop strong assistant principals (APs) and aspiring principals into excellent future principal candidates. During the 2020-21 school year, APs Rising includes:

Leadership Bridge Program for AP and Principal Pairs | This program includes on-the-job professional development for 25 AP and principal pairs. Through individualized coaching sessions from school leadership experts at New Leaders, the University of Illinois at Chicago's Urban Education Leadership Program, and Accelerate Institute, APs work in close collaboration with their principals to prepare for their future role. By the end of July, five APs in the program had secured principal contracts; several other participants are actively pursuing principal roles.

Aspiring Principal Professional Learning Community (PLC) | In 2020-21, three experienced CPS principals led 32 aspiring principals through nine learning sessions to develop practical knowledge about how to become a principal. An additional 14 aspiring principals participated in The Fund’s PLCs for principals, which cover a broader range of school leadership topics and are detailed below. All three PLCs completed the year virtually.

AP Resident Principal Program | Although this program is run independently by the CPS Department of Principal Quality, it is the final component of APs Rising. AP Residents serve for 12 to 18 months in schools where new talent is needed most. The program served one resident and will launch an additional cohort for the 2021-22 school year.

Chicago Principal Endorsement Partnership | 41 candidates; 2 principal leaders

Together with CPS and university partners, this special PLC supports candidates enrolled in degree programs that award the General Administrative Endorsement, Illinois’ statewide license for school leadership. The Learn to Lead PLC is led by two expert principals and includes teachers, network staff, and other school support staff who are interested in pursuing school leadership opportunities. Cohort sessions focused on school leadership experiences and networking opportunities, with the aim of elevating the profile of aspiring leaders within the district.

Principal Programs

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) | 94 participating principals; 22 principal leaders

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are year-long peer study groups for Chicago’s school leaders, led by the city’s top principals. The Fund’s PLC program helps principals learn and implement best practices from one another. Each PLC has a principal “expert” who facilitates the learning experience for the participants in their cohort. The PLC serves both to elevate the practice of the expert principal and to improve performance in participating schools.

In 2020-21, The Fund supported 20 PLCs across 16 topics, all of which centered around the idea of “COVID-19 Comeback.” Leaders focused on a range of topics, including action planning around learning loss, leading school-wide anti-racist initiatives, leveraging community partnerships, and ensuring student safety. By the end of the school year, 10 had completed all planned sessions, while all others completed an average of eight sessions. One PLC was unable to complete its sessions due to a change in priority. PLCs met virtually during the 2020-21 school year and will continue to do so next year.

Summer Design Program (SDP) | 63 principal-led teams

The Fund’s Summer Design Program (SDP) is a flagship professional development opportunity for principal-led school teams to bolster their leadership skills and address classroom-based challenges. Since its inception in 2013, SDP has served hundreds of principal-led teams and featured multiple partners. SDP focus areas, known as “tracks,” change every few years in response to principal feedback and need. In 2020-21, we offered three SDP tracks, delivered by three expert partners:

Tegy | 33 principal-led teams and 13 network teams | Tegy Inc. is a national school design firm that specializes in effective school scheduling practices. Tegy teaches school teams how to leverage their most precious asset: time. In recognition of the scheduling challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Fund partnered with CPS’ Office of Network Support (ONS) to provide direct coaching and scale Tegy’s resources to all district-managed elementary schools.

During fall 2020, Tegy directly coached 33 school teams to adapt their remote, hybrid, or in-person schedules to better meet their students’ needs. Tegy also trained network support staff on scheduling best practices, models, and resources. Direct connection and collaboration with ONS and CPS' Office of Teaching and Learning in November and December 2020 expanded hybrid scheduling options for elementary schools in reopening guidance.

In March 2021, the decision was made to pause scheduling work for the remainder of SY2020-21 due to uncertainty about the nature of school reopening. However, ONS has been engaged in considering additional schools to support should scheduling needs arise for fall 2021.

Fulcrum Education Solutions | 17 principal-led teams | Fulcrum is a Chicago-based leadership development organization. This year, Fulcrum focused on helping school teams adapt their instructional routines for remote or hybrid scenarios, with a special focus on delivering impactful instructional feedback and redesigning distributed leadership systems to meet staff and student needs.

National SAM Innovation Project (NSIP) | 13 principal-led teams | NSIP is a national organization dedicated to helping principals understand and leverage their time to advance teaching and learning in their schools. This year, NSIP is focused on giving principals new tools to track their time, set goals, establish roles for their team members, and constantly improve.

Note: Although SDP is typically a one-year opportunity, NSIP and Fulcrum provided a second year of support, continuing from the 2019-20 school year, in acknowledgment of the increased burden on principals due to COVID-19.

Principal Fellowships | 23 principals

The Chicago Principals Fellowship and Cahn Fellows Program are designed to provide executive leadership support to Chicago’s most talented principals. In 2020-21 we served 23 principals through two programs:

Chicago Principal Fellowship | 15 principals | The Chicago Principals Fellowship is a hands-on policy and leadership experience for Chicago’s top principals, led by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and CPS’ Department of Principal Quality. Fellows participate in academic sessions with celebrated Northwestern faculty and monthly policy advisory sessions with CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson. Fellows have completed Year One of the two-year fellowship. Policy sessions will resume in August 2021 while academic sessions will resume in October. Note: 16 of Chicago’s top principals began the fellowship in January of 2021; however, one has since been promoted to the position of Deputy Chief and thus can no longer engage in the program. Interim Chief Education Officer Maurice Sweeney is now holding policy sessions and engaging with the Principal Fellows.

Cahn Fellows Program | 8 principals | The Cahn Fellows Program is a 15-month-long national leadership development opportunity led by faculty at Teachers College, Columbia University. Fellows design and implement leadership projects in their schools with guidance from professors and practitioners. Each Fellow chooses an “ally” — another educator in their school whom they are cultivating for leadership — to participate alongside them. Fellows participate in sessions around personal leadership, stakeholder engagement, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. In 2020-21, Fellows engaged in monthly virtual study sessions around key leadership principles and will present their school-based projects at the Cahn Leadership Conference in October 2021.

Executive Principal | 15 principals

In partnership with CPS’ Department of Principal Quality, the Executive Principal program is a multi-year mentorship opportunity for Chicago’s top leaders (Executive Principals) and rising stars (Partner Principals). Partner and Executive Principals are thoughtfully matched based on their strength areas and aspirations for their schools. Throughout the school year, 13 leaders engaged in approximately 300 hours of coaching and mentoring in the form of weekly virtual school visits and observations, collaborative planning time, and networking opportunities. Additionally, Executive Principals led three professional learning community sessions around assessments, grading for equity, and courageous conversations around race. 2020-21 was the third year of the Executive Principal pilot and focused on codifying learnings and best practices, which led to the creation of the Principal to Principal Coaching Guide.

Note: One Executive Principal transitioned at the end of the 2019-20 school year. Their partner principal is still participating in the cohort with a trusted external coach serving as her mentor.

South Side Education Alliance (SSEA) | 8 principal-led teams

The South Side Education Alliance (SSEA) is a suite of instructional leadership and time management supports for eight elementary schools on Chicago’s South Side, collectively serving 4,400 students. In 2020-21, SSEA supports mirrored SDP supports: Fulcrum, a leadership development partner, focused on helping school teams in the remote learning scenario establish updated routines to deliver and monitor instructional feedback and adapt their distributed leadership systems. NSIP, a time management coaching partner, focused on giving principals new tools to track their time, set goals, establish roles for their team members, and constantly improve. Originally conceived of as a two-year pilot program, SSEA was extended into a third year during the COVID-19 pandemic in acknowledgment of the increased burden on principals.

Harvard Graduate School of Education: Leading Change (HGSE) | 50 principals

The Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and Harvard Business School (HBS) collaborate to offer Leading Change, which is a four-week online course in adaptive leadership within their Certificate in School Management and Leadership program. This school year, the Fund sponsored a cohort of principals from across the city to participate, helping equip them with the skills they need to drive school change and establish priorities with diverse stakeholders to improve practice. Half of the participants completed the course in August and the other half in October.

Relay Graduate School of Education: Instructional Leadership Workshops (Relay GSE) | 41 principals and team members

The Relay Graduate School of Education (Relay GSE) is an accredited higher-education organization focused on teacher and principal preparation. This year, The Fund partnered with Relay GSE to deliver virtual workshops to principals and their teams. The sessions kicked off in December 2020 and taught school teams how to use new tools and strategies to deliver high-quality remote instruction that bolsters student engagement.

2020-21 Program Data

Assistant and Aspiring Principal Programs

Principal Programs

Thank you to our champions.

This work is made possible through the generous support of our Board of Directors and Leadership Council members. The programs described above received direct support from the following foundations and corporations: