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82 Chicago principals get up to $20,000 in merit bonuses

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about merit pay bonuses ranging from $5000 $20000 apiece awarded 82 Chicago Public School principals whose

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about merit pay bonuses ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 apiece, awarded to 82 Chicago Public School principals whose schools demonstrated “exceptional growth” in four key measurements of student success. At Lowell Elemenatry School 3320 W. Hirsch. Monday, October 29, 2012 I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 1, 2012 6:23AM

Merit pay bonuses ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 apiece were awarded Monday to 82 Chicago Public School principals whose schools demonstrated “exceptional growth” in four key measurements of student success.

“It’s exuberating. It’s something I never thought I would receive,” said Lowell Elementary School principal Gladys Rivera, one of only four principals to be awarded the maximum $20,000 bonus.

“Being a principal is the loneliest job there is,” she said. “Nobody wants to be your friend and very seldom do we get recognized. We recognize students. We recognize teachers. But when do we get recognized? So it’s nice to get even a, ‘Thank you.’ ... It’s never been about the money.”

Chavez Elementary School Principal Barton Dassinger said he considers his $20,000 bonus “an honor for my entire school” — not an individual accolade.

“It will make a community that sometimes doesn’t hear it as often as they should feel that they’re very valuable and they can do great things and achieve great things,” Dassinger said, crediting the extra 90 minutes built into Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s longer school day.

Fourteen months ago, Emanuel persuaded four philanthropists to pony up $5 million to bankroll merit pay for principals in a program he vowed would include training principals to a set of expectations outlined in a new “principal performance contract.”

The announcement blindsided Chicago Principals Association president Clarice Berry, who was not given advance notice of the plan and won outright rejection from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. Both pointed to research and past Chicago experience indicating merit pay in education has not proven effective.

On Monday, Emanuel joined newly appointed Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett at Lowell, 3320 W. Hirsch, to reward the 82 people most responsible for, what he called a “great year” at CPS.

Principals whose students showed outstanding growth in all four measurement categories got the maximum, $20,000 bonus. Those with big gains in three out of four categories got $10,000. Principals who measured up in two out of four areas got $5,000.

“They have all shown ... improvement on math scores, improvement on reading scores, improvement on closing the achievement gap [between white and minority students] and improvement toward college readiness and college attendance. Those are the measures,” Emanuel said.

After spending 20 years in the trenches as a teacher and principal, Byrd-Bennett knows better than most how important an inspiring and motivating principal can be.

“No one was more valuable to me than Ralph Edwards. He was my first principal. He was there to cheer me on. He was there to lift me up when I was kind of feeling down because I didn’t have a successful day. He was there to give me a push and quite frankly a swift kick when I needed it,” Byrd-Bennett said.

Byrd-Bennett praised the 82 principals she called “Chicago’s finest” for achieving “exceptional student outcomes” against sometimes difficult odds.

“I know how hard that is. I know how frustrating that can be. ... I know that collaboration is hard sometimes and getting that entire faculty ... to support your vision and inspire your students is also a tough job,” she said.

“We applaud you for the work you have done on behalf of children and we ... will continue to do everything we can to support you, retain you. You ain’t going nowhere. You’re gonna stay put so we can share the successes and best practices you have initiated among other principals, your colleagues,” Byrd-Bennett said.

Although it wasn’t about the money for Lowell Elementary’s Gladys Rivera, she still has a plan for the 20 grand.

“I have five grandchildren, so I’m going to help set ‘em up for college,” she said.

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