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updated: 6/4/2013 5:34 PM

Principals will be central to U-46 restructuring process

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Principals are central to their schools' achievement.

Elgin Area School District U-46 is using University of Chicago's "Five Essentials" model for success -- which highlights effective leaders -- as it transforms 10 elementary schools deemed failing under federal guidelines.

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"As the leader of a school, it's the principal's expertise in teaching and learning and supporting and organizing teachers around instruction that really makes a difference for student results," said Ushma Shah, superintendent of elementary schools, instruction and equity. Shah is leading the restructuring process in U-46 in a collaboration that has so far included administrators and Elgin Teachers Association leaders.

The district is required to make major changes to the governance and management, financing and staffing in the federally mandated restructuring process of 10 schools: Channing, Garfield, Highland, Hillcrest, Huff, Lords Park, Sheridan and Washington, all in Elgin, and Laurel Hill and Parkwood in Hanover Park.

Principals in those 10 schools were asked to make a written commitment to transformational change at the start of the restructuring process. Seven of them will remain at their schools next year as the changes take hold. Three schools will be led by new principals fresh out of training as administrative interns -- effectively, assistant principals -- in other U-46 schools.

Luis Fernando De Leon will take over as principal of Laurel Hill Elementary School next year. He did his internship at Gifford Elementary School. Hilda Rivera will move from assistant principal to principal of Lords Park Elementary School. And Ana Lizza Arroyo will be principal at Parkwood Elementary School after an internship at Liberty.

Arroyo said she started meeting staff, parents and school improvement team members as soon as she was appointed last month.

She said people on all sides seem to want to move the school forward.

"There is a level of anxiety but what I receive from the teachers and from parents is that collaboration is key," Arroyo said.

Principals and "transformation coaches" in all 10 restructuring schools will get intensive professional development this summer. The coaches are master teachers selected for their expertise in one of 10 specialty areas like math, literacy and dual language.

Shah said administrators are still interviewing for one transformation coach position. A second assistant superintendent of elementary schools, instruction and equity will also be hired this summer, based on the plan.

District leaders recognize the challenge before them but have embraced the opportunity to improve instruction.

De Leon, the incoming principal of Laurel Hill, said he put his name in for a principal position and specifically wanted to work in a school undergoing restructuring.

"It's going to be hard, but at the same time it's exciting because we're going to be able to turn the school around," De Leon said.

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