How One CICS Trailblazer Shares Her Passion & Lineage With Staff, Students & Families

Coming from a strong lineage of educators, Allison Hansen, CICS’ Chief Schools Officer, knows all too well what it means to be a trailblazer in the field of education. Inspired by her grandmother, who once taught in a one-room schoolhouse full of K-12 students, Allison has learned that the sky's the limit when the right supports are in place to ensure staff and students thrive. 

Growing up in a tight-knit family in Des Moines, Iowa, Allison strives to bring her love and belief in the strength of the community into the work she leads. Allison began her journey in education when she became a 2009 Baton Rouge, Louisiana Corps Member with Teach For America. Allison has served in several leadership roles throughout her past endeavors. Still, it wasn’t until her first leadership role as a teacher leading 32 2nd graders that she uncovered a passion for education. Education was not originally in Allison’s plans, but now supporting schools is her life’s mission.

She is grateful to be a part of a movement fighting educational inequities here at CICS. Allison has seen inequities in education across the country through her work in post-Hurricane Katrina Southern Louisiana, Philadelphia, Camden, and Washington, D.C. but through that work, she has also seen the transformational and sustaining impact great leaders can have in the communities they serve. Allison knew she wanted to play her part and that there was a lot of work to do.

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Her time with CICS has allowed her to implement her core values, shaped by her career as a teacher, teacher coach, principal, and education researcher, into the decisions that are made impacting students and families. Allison’s mission is to ensure CICS responds to the challenges that face students, families, educators and school leaders with a sense of urgency and a “students first” mindset. In her role, she is able to advocate and support principals and in turn, help make decisions for our most important key stakeholders - students, families and educators. 

Allison dreams big and she has many hopes for CICS. Her motivation for continuing the work she does comes from her desire to make sure students feel a sense of belonging while showing families and students that they are in the best schools in the city of Chicago. Helping make CICS schools an exceptional place is not enough for Allison. She strives to ensure that students are nurtured and feel empowered knowing that they can accomplish anything they want to when they leave their respective campuses. 

Something she’s been excited about this school year is the continued partnership with The New Teacher Project (TNTP), to help build a transformational coaching approach for teachers, leading to a whole-child approach for students. This innovative partnership has led to significant growth proving that when we invest in our leaders and teachers, great things happen for our students.

Allison knows that families trust our CICS campuses with their most valuable and prized possessions, their students. Her mission is to ensure that this most sacred responsibility of educating students is at the center of all decisions so our students, families and educators can thrive. 

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Click here to learn more about Allison!

 

ISBE Results for Chicago International Charter School (CICS) Shows Growth Outpacing Illinois Schools

This week, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) unveiled its latest Illinois School Report Card summative designations, which are designed to help school communities better understand how well a school is serving its students. The designations are a key component of Illinois’ school accountability system and they allow networks, like CICS, to understand better our strengths, areas for growth, and performance of all public schools across Illinois.  

Parent: Gabriela Salgado - CICS Bucktown

I enrolled my children at CICS Bucktown because I heard great things about the school and it is close to my job and not too far from the community I live in. 

Principal Spotlight: Sarah O'Connell

CICS Bucktown boasts an energetic learning environment, fueled by over 600 eager learners, many of whom travel great distances to school each day! Their talented teaching staff is dedicated to meeting the needs of every student through the effective implementation of a finely tuned blended learning model. Behind this model is Sarah O’Connell, Principal of CICS Bucktown, and she has dedicated her leadership to fostering skills by being a leading example to help solve problems to create better experiences and learning environments.

Sarah recently shared some of the things that excite and motivate her about education, to create equitable outcomes for her students and community. As a former teacher of CICS Bucktown, she understands all too well the importance of transparent leadership in order to forge impactful outcomes and strategize their efforts to meet these goals. 

We were able to collect some sentiments for Sarah and learn more about her background to share with you. To learn more about Sarah and CICS Bucktown, please visit their campus Facebook page or website.

 1. Why did you decide to become a principal?

 Since the 4th grade, I had wanted to become a teacher, based on the impact that my 4th grade teacher made upon me.  From there, I prioritized becoming a teacher and got my first teaching job at CICS-Bucktown where I am now a Principal.

2. What is one thing you are looking forward to in the new school year?

I look forward to returning to my true passion of teaching and learning this year and building a strong culture with students and staff.

3. What is one skill that you have that makes you a great principal?

I feel that I am always a teacher first with my thinking.  I always make sure I take this lens in all my decisions.

4. Name something that you are proud of on or about your campus.

I am extremely proud of the growth that CICS-Bucktown made last year in a post-COVID world.  We met 3 out of 4 of our campus growth plan goals!

5. How do you make positive connections with your students? 

It is important that I am greeting them every morning and do walkthroughs to check in on students throughout the day.  One-on-one time with some students is key!

6. How are you making those connections now?

I am excited to start a Student Advisory Group this year at CICS Bucktown.  Student Advisory Group is made up of representatives from 4th-8th grade, meeting once per month with leadership, giving their voice and opinion in all school decisions and policies.

7 . What is your vision for student success this year?

Students meeting their academic goals and building upon their SEL skills.

8. Education is ever-evolving. If money / resources / time were not an issue, what would you do to improve your school?

Create a school environment where students want to be there 24/7 - a full community hub model!

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Sarah O’Connell is a lifelong educator and dedicated educational leader. Throughout her career with Distinctive Schools and CICS Bucktown, she has served as an elementary educator and coach, and began her journey in school leadership in 2015, after earning her Master's in Teacher Leadership.  She earned her Principal Degree from National Louis University and was named Principal of CICS Bucktown in 2016.  Sarah is committed to strong staff & student culture, meaningful professional development for teachers and staff, and meeting the diverse needs of each learner. As Deputy Chief of Schools – IL, Sarah mentors principals to ensure effective leadership practices support teachers, students, and families throughout their experience with Distinctive Schools. 

Reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and His Legacy

This year marks the 26th anniversary of the United States honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s  life and legacy as a civil rights leader. More than ever, we need a moment to reflect on what still needs to be done to honor him from both a human and civil rights perspective. To celebrate this day, Taquia Hylton, CICS Ralph Ellison School Director, offers her reflection on the importance of this holiday, and discusses the need to continue Dr. King’s work of justice and equality for all. 

On the morning of January 7,  a day after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, I woke up with the words from "The U.S Pledge of Allegiance'' on my mind. I remember thinking over and over the words, "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all". I thought to myself, Francis Bellamy probably didn’t write this with black and brown children in mind. This anthem still does not ring true. It doesn’t feel like the citizens in this nation have been indivisible at all. Our country seems to be more divided than ever before. Why? Because, what we have seen in the last few weeks (and over four years) is the result of divisive rhetoric from the country's 45th Commander In Chief. His words drove hundreds of "U.S. citizens'' to storm a building that should have been impenetrable, the symbol and meeting place of our democracy.  

As an educator, when I think about liberty and justice I am drawn to each term's formal definitions. What is justice? Merriam Webster defines it as "the quality of being just, impartial, or fair." Liberty is defined as "the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges." Then, I reflected on the positives that came out of the day instead of the disheartening images that flooded every imaginable news media outlet.  I chuckled as "liberty" and "justice" presented themselves in the state of Georgia via the results of the Senate election.  

Just a day before the insurrection, the people of Georgia exercised their liberties at their polling places. As a result, Reverend Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the same church where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, was elected the first African American Senator from the State of Georgia. We have come a long way! It brought me a sense of joy knowing Dr. King’s hard fought journey for the equal rights of African Americans became a reality with the election of Reverend Warnock. But more needs to be done. 

As we celebrate Dr. King's life and legacy, I am grateful for the contributions that he and so many others have made for black people to be able to experience liberty and justice. Though African Americans have made incremental steps in society, we have a long way to go. In the words of Dr. King, "No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." Justice is NOT for "just us" nor is it exclusive of the black and brown community.  It is for ALL of us! Like Dr. King, I have that dream too.  

Taquia Hylton

Principal 

School closure extended through April 20

Dear CICS families, 

 Minutes ago, Mayor Lightfoot announced that all CPS schools will remain closed through April 20. Given the necessity of this action to protect the health and well-being of our students, families and communities, CICS will follow suit. Please note that our previously scheduled Spring Break from April 6 through April 10 will continue as planned and we will not provide teacher-directed instruction during that week. We will follow up with more details and guidance as we learn more, but please know that we are committed to supporting our students throughout this extended closure.

These are unprecedented times and I urge you to please stay informed and take care of yourselves, as we will all be in this for what feels like a very long haul. 

Take care, 

Elizabeth

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[Spanish Translation]

Asunto:  Cierre de la escuela extendido hasta el 20 de abril.

Estimadas familias de CICS:

Hace solo unos minutos, el alcalde Lightfoot anuncio que todas las escuelas de CPS permanecerán cerradas hasta el 20 de abril. Dada la necesidad de esta acción para proteger la salud y el bienestar de nuestros estudiantes, familias y comunidades, CICS hará lo mismo. Tenga en cuenta que nuestras vacaciones de primavera programadas previamente del 6 al 10 de abril continuarán según lo planeado y no proporcionaremos instrucción durante esa semana. Seguiremos con más detalles y orientación a medida que aprendamos más, pero tenga en cuenta que estamos comprometidos a apoyar a nuestros estudiantes durante este cierre prolongado.

Estos son tiempos sin precedentes y les insto a que se mantengan informados y se cuiden, ya que todos estaremos en esto por lo que parece ser un viaje muy largo.

Cuídanse, 

Elizabeth

Voices Blog: CICS Talent Visionary

Eddie Johnson, Managing Director of Talent for CICS, defines diversity beyond the common terms of race and gender. When there is an open role on our campuses, she also looks for a diversity of experiences in candidates for each position. During interviews she often asks potential employees to talk about their own cultural competencies, focusing on how the CICS value of equity resonates with each person. Mrs. Johnson believes that the lived experiences and cultural awareness of CICS teachers can provide our students with a wider view of the world. A diverse workforce also can have a deep and lasting influence on school culture.

Positive school culture is one of the cornerstones that Eddie Johnson identifies as one of the reasons that people choose to work on our campuses. Research from several recent studies have indicated that a value-based school culture (pro-active disciplinary practices, professional development, opportunities for growth and recognition) is as important as compensation. CICS has been collecting data to guide the talent team in understanding why educators choose CICS and how to ensure that our schools retain the best and most talented teachers. Mrs. Johnson was instrumental in creating and implementing a data-driven equity-based compensation model earlier this year. Prior to the pandemic shutdown, Mrs. Johnson had attended a number of recruitment fairs on college campuses and saw other school districts advertising their starting salaries. When she talked with students, she walked them through the CICS model which not only has compensation lanes but also offers a range of benefits that few charter schools can match. 

While professional development opportunities and parental leave benefits are important factors that influence teacher recruitment and retention, Mrs. Johnson believes that a positive school culture is still one of the strongest attractions of the CICS schools. The opportunity to share in the values of equity, diversity, innovation and positive change for students to what she believes brings talented professionals into our classrooms. She is confident that CICS’ continued investment in creating a culture where everyone can engage and learn will sustain its student-focused environment and continue to build a strong community that works together to help all students succeed.

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