CPS Opportunity Schools Initiative Expands to Provide Dedicated Teacher Recruitment and Retention Support to More Schools
14 October 2021
New study calls program a `blueprint for urban districts’ as CPS adds 10 schools to cohort this school year
CHICAGO – Having made significant progress in tackling one of public education’s most persistent challenges, Chicago Public Schools is doubling down on its commitment to provide students in low-income communities with equitable access to high-quality teaching.
CPS today announced the addition of 11 neighborhood schools to the Opportunity Schools Initiative, which supports schools across the city that have historically had difficulties recruiting and retaining educators – especially in communities on the South and West sides and in high-need subject areas, such as special education and bilingual learning.
The Opportunity Schools program was rolled out in the 2016-17 school year to provide principals with hiring and professional development support from the Central Office – customized for their schools. At the time, teachers had been leaving schools at a pace that undermined the District’s efforts to sustain high-quality instruction for neighborhood schools. Since that time, the program has increased early-career educator retention rates from 56 percent to 82 percent in the 2020-21 school year.
Opportunity Schools not only is an essential strategy for promoting equity across the District; it holds promise for similar outcomes in urban school districts across the country. A newly published case study describes Chicago’s Opportunity Schools as “a blueprint for urban school districts on how to address the challenges of recruiting, developing, and retaining educators in the hardest-to-staff schools.”
“Great teachers matter. With research consistently showing that teachers are the leading in-school factor in determining student achievement, the most important thing we can do for our students is provide them with outstanding teachers,” says CPS CEO Pedro Martinez. “I’m energized by the results we’re seeing in CPS’ Opportunity Schools program, and look forward to building on this effort by prioritizing recruiting and retaining talented, diverse teachers for our students.”
The case study, How Chicago Public Schools Recruits, Retains, and Develops High-Quality Teachers for Hard-to-Staff Schools: The Opportunity Schools Initiative, was developed by Education First, a Seattle-based education strategy and policy organization, in collaboration with the Chicago Public Schools Talent Office. It was supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation.
In addition to improved teacher retention rates at CPS Opportunity Schools, the District cites additional positive outcomes:
The initiative has reduced teacher vacancy rates at Opportunity Schools by nearly 50 percent during the same period.
Of the more than 800 teachers placed in Opportunity Schools over the past three years, more than two-thirds teach subjects that are hard to staff, such as special education. And, at least half are teachers of color.
"I've seen firsthand the positive impact of the Opportunity Schools Initiative from my time as an Assistant Principal at Beethoven Elementary School," said Laverne Wright, Principal of Carrie Jacobs Bond Elementary School, one of the new CPS Opportunity Schools. "The CPS Talent Office helps cut through the bureaucracy of working in a big district by spending time with us to build trust and understand the particular needs of our school, our community, and our students. That approach has led to several great hires who are doing an extraordinary job teaching in our classrooms today."
Given its proven success, the Opportunity Schools Initiative has grown from 50 to 78 neighborhood schools in its four years, and CPS plans an expansion to 100 by 2024 – including the 10 schools added in the current school year. The new Opportunity Schools announced today are below, and a full list of all Opportunity Schools is available here.
- William H. Brown Elementary School
- Englewood STEM High School
- John Hay Elementary Community Academy
- Carrie Jacobs Bond Elementary School
- Percy L. Julian High School
- Robert Nathaniel Dett Elementary School
- Paul Revere Elementary School
- Edward Tilden Career Community Academy High School
- Oliver S. Westcott Elementary School
- Richard Yates Elementary School
"I've been given this great opportunity to work in a school where the kids are motivated, bright and energetic,” said Ayrin Bell, special education teacher at Bond. “The supports I’m receiving through Opportunity Schools are setting up my CPS teaching career for success right from the start.”
Opportunity Schools is part of Teach Chicago, a CPS initiative launched in 2016 to attract and retain high-quality, diverse educators for every classroom in the city. Through a collection of programs – including Opportunity Schools, the CPS Teacher Residency, Teach Chicago Tomorrow for CPS students who aspire to be CPS teachers, and more – Teach Chicago provides schools with talented teaching candidates, and resources for the hardest-to-staff schools and the highest-need subject areas, such as special education. Opportunity Schools takes this initiative a step further and focuses on recruitment and retention for a specific cohort of schools with the greatest staffing needs, primarily on the city’s South and West sides. Partners including the Joyce Foundation and Crown Family Philanthropies work with Children First Fund, the Chicago Public Schools Foundation, to help support Opportunity Schools and other elements of Teach Chicago.
Earlier this month, CPS announced its School Year 2021 first day of school staffing report, representing the strongest overall school staffing figures in recent years with more specialized staff, lower vacancy rates and increased teacher diversity. Furthermore, these improvements reflect important progress toward CPS’ Five-Year Vision to hire an additional 3,000 Black and Latinx teachers by 2024. Since the 2018-19 school year, the district increased the percentage of new teacher hires who are Black and Latinx from 31 percent to 46 percent in 2021-2022.
While efforts remain ongoing, a higher percentage of CPS teachers are Black or Latinx today than in any year since 2012. The district is reporting significant progress toward achieving its five-year goal, having hired 841 Black and 1,061 Latinx teachers.
The Education First case study shares perspectives from CPS educators and administrators who have played key roles in the success of Opportunity Schools. It also offers recommendations for consideration by philanthropy given the benefits to teachers, students, principals, and school communities.
“The Opportunity Schools Initiative serves as a model for other urban school districts across the country on how to recruit, support, and retain great teachers for hard-to-staff schools,” said Stephanie Banchero, Education Program Director at the Joyce Foundation, which funded the case study and supports Teach Chicago. “And the case study provides important considerations and recommendations for philanthropy in supporting similar efforts.”
Opportunity Schools strategies are built on a foundation of collaborative, trusting relationships between principals and the district’s Talent Office. A top priority is finding candidates who are the “right fit,” such as teachers with a social justice inclination who gravitate toward working with students in low-income communities.
"Recruitment efforts should appeal to the great teachers who want to teach in high-needs schools, not trying to convince teachers less passionate about working in them,” said John Luczak, Partner at Education First, one of the study’s authors. “There are no tricks, gimmicks or incentives to entice candidates to join the ranks of teachers in Opportunity Schools. It's about ensuring there's a good match between teacher and school.”
Among other strategies contributing to the success of Opportunity Schools:
New teachers receive coaching to build their instructional skills and practices and are assigned to a mentor teacher trained to help them manage the challenges of teaching. This day-to-day support in their early years can set them up to be effective and successful teachers, and stay with the school that hired them.
Principals receive professional development support on how to improve their human resources strategies and practices, such as guidance on having the “stay conversation” with new teachers about returning the following school year.
The Opportunity Schools Initiative was created in the belief that a stable and high-quality teaching force drives student success. The study acknowledges that the interruption in district-wide student assessments caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated determining the precise impact of Opportunity Schools on student learning. Still, with data showing teacher vacancy rates declining and educator retention on the rise, the case study concludes that “early results are promising” and that the Opportunity Schools program “is worth watching and merits further study.”
Says Ben Felton, CPS Talent Office Executive Director of Teacher Recruitment, Pathways, and Equity Strategy: “As we look to the future of Opportunity Schools, we’re proud of the progress we’ve already seen coming out of these schools, and are forging ahead to continue to build on these positive results for schools, students and communities.”
To view and download the case study, visit www.teach.cps.edu/opportunity-schools-study.
Key partners working with Children First Fund, the Chicago Public Schools Foundation, to support the Opportunity Schools Initiative include the Crown Family Philanthropies and the Joyce Foundation. Additional support was provided by the U.S. Department of Education.