UIC’s Center for Urban Education Leadership awarded grant to continue developing CPS leaders

Shelby Cosner, center, works with members of the Center for Urba
Shelby Cosner, center, works with members of the Center for Urban Educational Leadership. The center recently received a grant to work with Chicago Public Schools to develop network chiefs.

The UIC Center for Urban Education Leadership has received a $250,000 grant to continue its efforts to assist the Chicago Public Schools’ five-year vision to strengthen its leadership pipeline. 

The two-year grant by the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation continues the center’s work that began with a $250,000 grant in 2020 to develop network chiefs as principal supervisors who effect continuous improvement and help district principals grow as instructional leaders. 

The school district is the nation’s third-largest, behind only Los Angeles and New York City, with 638 schools and more than 340,000 students. As part of its leadership structure, CPS is organized into networks that provide administrative support, strategic direction and leadership development to the schools within each network. 

The grants are designed to continue the development of network chiefs to improve the leadership of the schools, said Shelby Cosner, director of UIC’s Center for Urban Education Leadership and the principal investigator for the project. 

“At CPS, the network chiefs are really positioned to amplify the leadership of the schools, so when you look at schools and when you think about the theory for what happens in a school that impacts student learning, leadership is among the most important things,” said Cosner, who is professor of educational policy studies in the UIC College of Education. 

During the work done under the first grant, UIC officials have been working with the network chiefs to become more oriented as “leader developers” by focusing attention on developing leaders and leadership in each of the schools so the principal or school leadership structure can impact the organizations and instruction. 

Cosner dubbed CPS a “sub-district structure” because it is so large. As a result, to make the size of the district manageable, network chiefs hold a lot of power and influence over school instruction in the buildings within the district networks. There are 21 networks, grouped by regions and school types, all under CPS’ Office of Network Support. 

The first year of the grant was spent collecting data so the center could have an idea of how the networks impact the schools. This was done by interviewing the chiefs and their deputies, school principals and other leaders, as well as reviewing documentation. 

Shelby Cosner, center, works with members of the Center for Urba
Shelby Cosner, center, works with members of the Center for Urban Educational Leadership.

After the center analyzed all of its data after the first year, UIC officials met with the Office of Network Support and worked together to highlight issues. Among the issues was how to tackle “high-churn schools” that have historically struggled. While they are in under-resourced neighborhoods and serving more students of color, deep-seated factors were highlighted. 

“When you dig more deeply, you find that these schools have dramatically different levels of chronic absenteeism, student homelessness, student mobility and teacher turnover,” Cosner said. “Those four characteristics weren’t understood as being underlying factors in the schools, and they are.” 

Among the focus of the new grant is to continue enacting learning design and collect ongoing data to analyze how instruction, organization and leadership look in the district’s schools with particular focus on how different it looks in “high-churn” schools. The goal is to develop strategies among the network and the center to help those schools. 

“One of the things that we’re examining right now lives in that space of high-churn,” Cosner said. “It will be really important that we come to understand how instruction, organization and leadership…look different in high-churn schools. What is it that teachers are doing differently?” 

The aim of the grant is to come up with an understanding of what those issues are, Cosner said. At the same time, there are probably a lot of district-level policies and practices, as well as policies and practices in the larger community, that are making those conditions worse, she said. The purpose is to fashion Interventions and strategies to combat those conditions. 

The Lloyd A. Fry Foundation supports organizations with the strength and commitment to address persistent problems of urban Chicago resulting from poverty, violence, ignorance and despair. They seek to build the capacity of individuals and the systems that serve them. Their vision is that Chicago offers education, prosperity, and hope for all. 

In 1933, Lloyd A. Fry founded the Lloyd A. Fry Roofing Company on the Southwest Side of Chicago. During the next five decades, the company grew to become the world’s largest manufacturer of asphalt roofing and allied products, with nearly 5,000 dedicated employees in manufacturing facilities nationwide. The company was sold to Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corporation in 1977. In large part, the proceeds from the sale of the company now serve as the endowment of the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, which has been addressing the needs of the Chicago community since 1983. 

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