Big Shoulders — Nelson Gerew, Chicago Public Education Fund

| Adam J. Hecktman

Adam Hecktman (left) sits with Nelson Gerew (right)

Leadership comes in all different shapes, styles, spans, and responsibilities.  School leadership in the form of principals have at stake the future of some of our most valued and cherished resources: our children and the teachers who nurture them.  That alone is reason enough to pay close attention to the development of our school principals. Here are a few others:

  • According to, principal leadership is second only to teaching among school-related impacts on student learning.  
  • Further, 96 percent of teachers say the principal is the main determinant as to whether they stay or leave a school.
  • If a teacher is a way to scale the impact of education on many students, a principal is responsible for scaling the impact of the teachers.  A great principal can make for a great school.

The Chicago Public Education Fund is an independent organization focused on building talent for Chicago’s public schools.  They focus on what it takes to attract, support, and keep strong principals.  All of this requires a deep understanding of what principals need.

How do you answer a question like “what do Chicago’s public school principals need?” Should be easy: look at the data? Not that easy. School data is scattered across many sources (Student Information Systems, budgets, talent systems, etc.).  And the data from each source may point to different needs based on what data is collected. Furthermore, schools are dynamic. Things change. Leadership changes.  Programs are initiated. Some are sunsetted. So, it also depends on when it was collected.

This is the challenge that Nelson Gerew, Director of Data, Policy and Reports at the Fund, took on.  With a rich background in research, Nelson tackled not only how to collect and analyze this disparate data, he also derived the insights of what makes a solid environment for developing strong leadership in the form of school principals.  I hope you will join me in our discussion of his vital work.

Adam J. Hecktman

You may recognize Adam. He’s a regular on TV, you can hear him on the radio, he’s penned numerous articles and is the co-founder of the Chicago City Data Users Group. But some of Adam’s most important work is done behind the scenes in his role as Microsoft’s Director of Technology and Civic Engagement for Chicago. Tech giants, universities and government leaders turn to Adam for guidance on all matters technology, and he happily obliges, helping Chicago overcome challenges and capitalizing on new, exciting opportunities.