CICS Ralph Ellison, Class of 2011
Ohio State University, Class of 2015
I’m the first in my family to attend a four-year university. I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a single-parent household—it was just my mom, my younger sister, my older brother, and me. My mom has been an accountant for over twenty years, and she’s been my number one influence. I attended CICS Ralph Ellison from 2007-2011, and one of the things I appreciated the most was the familial atmosphere. All of the teachers at CICS Ralph Ellison played vital roles in my education and made me motivated to succeed. My principal, Dr. Wilson, was an important part of my progress—since he and I came from similar backgrounds, he served as a very positive black male role model for me.
CICS Basil, Class of 2007
CICS Ralph Ellison, Class of 2011
Howard University, Class of 2015
My father is a carpenter, and my mother is a police dispatcher for the city. They’re both from the South Side. My father went to trade school, and my mother is in college now- she decided she wanted to go back to school and get her degree. She and I will graduate at the same time, actually.
October 18, 2021
CHICAGO – Chicago International Charter School (CICS), a network of 13 public charter schools serving 7,400 students, is excited to announce that Kris Cheung will begin as the organization’s Chief Executive Officer, effective November 1, 2021. Following an extensive national search, Cheung was selected due to his deep experience as a leader in education, his relational leadership style and ability to drive student outcomes while maintaining a well-run organization.
“Kris is a seasoned leader who we are confident has the experience and capabilities to lead CICS into our next phase,” said Evan Sharp, member of CICS’ Board of Directors and chair of the CEO Search Committee. “What stood out to us about Kris was his ability to ask thoughtful questions and listen intently, surround himself with experts, and galvanize people around a common goal. Our Board is deeply grateful to the entire CICS team for providing stability and continuity for our students, families and staff while we found the right person for the role.”
Cheung comes to CICS with more than a decade of leadership at two of the nation’s highly regarded charter networks: Success Academy in New York and KIPP Texas. As the Chief Operating Officer at Success Academy, he helped the organization grow from seven schools serving 2,400 students to 46 schools serving more than 16,000 students. At KIPP Texas, he led the consolidation of four KIPP regions across Texas, now serving 34,000 students at 59 schools statewide. In both roles, Kris brought stakeholders together across departments and regions, while navigating significant complexity, to create more high-quality opportunities for students.
“CICS has been an education leader in Chicago for more than 24 years and I’m eager to build upon the amazing work of our students, families and staff in the years to come,” said Cheung. “I know the last 18 months have been challenging for everyone and I’m excited to lead a team that has demonstrated resilience, perseverance and a relentless focus on students in the face of significant obstacles. I look forward to building relationships with everyone who is committed to the success of Chicago’s children.”
About Chicago International Charter School
Chicago International Charter School is a vibrant network of diverse Chicago charter schools that enable students to thrive every day, put them on a path to success in college and life, and empower entrepreneurial educators to pursue excellence through innovation. CICS is serving more than 7,400 students at 13 campuses across Chicago. To learn more, visit www.chicagointl.org.
Rallying around an agenda that supports the advancement of Black and Brown children in his community is what Robert Alexander is all about. Now he’s giving back to the community where it all started for him, as a teacher, at his alma mater, CICS Loomis-Longwood.
Robert attended CICS Loomis-Longwood starting in the 2nd through the 12th grade. When reflecting on his time as a student here, Robert shares that it was challenging growing up on the East and South sides of Chicago, especially when trying to get to school. Still, he looked forward to entering the doors of Loomis-Longwood and credits his time here for molding him into the person he is today.
“Having the opportunity to attend this school taught me self-discipline. But they made it a point to show you love and respect - something I will never forget", stated Robert. These same traits that Robert remembers back then, are some of the exact reasons he jumped at the chance to come back to Loomis-Longwood.
While vacationing one summer, Robert was approached by an old friend who was employed with CICS and invited him to work in the security department as a school security guard. Robert eagerly accepted the opportunity and started his transition back to CICS. “My encounter with an old friend was meant to be. At the time I needed an income and this was my way of making that happen. It just made this opportunity even better knowing that I’d be coming back to where it all started for me.”
Little did Robert know, his start as support staff would blossom into more than he bargained for. As a security guard, he was responsible for keeping students safe, but this position afforded him to connect with the students and build meaningful relationships. At the start of his employment at Longwood, Robert immediately gravitated toward the students and took a genuine interest in their well-being as well as their successes in and out of the classroom.
“To see the turnaround in students is amazing and it makes me feel good to hear students tell me that I was the reason they came to school and why they wanted to do better. I would see those same students on the honor roll and involved in school activities the next year and was proud to know that I played a part in their success.”
A New Beginning
After four years of being a security guard, Robert was approached by Chrystal Fields, Managing Director of Student and Family Supports at CICS Loomis-Longwood and Lloyd Bond, to be a paraprofessional. When she learned of his qualifications and witnessed his ability to build meaningful relationships with the students, she encouraged him to apply for the role.
Transitioning into the classroom was more than a promotion for Robert, it was also a chance for him to play his part in changing the narrative of what success looks like for Black and Brown students. As a paraprofessional, he loves being able to see the growth of his students. He also loves new challenges. Robert enrolled in the Relay graduate program and it was during this time that he knew he wanted to be more involved in his students' education and started to pursue being a Diverse Learning teacher.
Robert has been with CICS for several years now and looks forward to continuing serving at Loomis-Longwood.
“Being at CICS is like being with family. They have such a strong support system and culture. Whenever I need help with anything I know that I can call on anyone to help me and I want to create the same environment for my kids when they come into my classroom.”
National Principals Month honors principals for their significant impact on the success and well-being of our nation’s students.
Join us as we celebrate all CICS principals throughout October!
Check out several of the school principals from our Avalon, Basil, Bucktown, Irving Park, Loomis-Longwood, Lloyd Bond, Northtown Academy, Prairie, Ralph Ellison, Washington Park, West Belden and Wrightwood campuses.
We plan to profile all our principals this week and their journeys to becoming great leaders! We thank them for all they do!
Earlier this month, Kris Cheung joined CICS as our new Chief Executive Officer.
Kris is a student-centered leader and we are excited for him to be part of the CICS family serving our teachers, staff and familes in providing excellent, innovative and equitable educational experiences to Chicago’s communities.
Check him out at Crain's Chicago ‘On the Move.’
It is important that CICS students maintain a healthy body and mind during the school year. CICS recognizes that meals contribute to our physical, social and mental well-being.
Our Food Services team plays an essential role to all our CICS schools. They are an important part of improving the health and well-being of our students. We would like to share the story of what our food service program does every school day in order to keep students healthy and fed.
A Change in Meals
CICS knows that what a child eats plays a role in their level of creativity, engagement and academic performance. Our food program ensures that students and families have nutritious meal options. Due to the pandemic, the last in-school meals were served to CICS students on Friday, March 13.
With only the weekend to plan, CICS began to offer meals for pickup to our students and their families on the following Monday, March 16. While those first few meals consisted of sandwiches and wraps, CICS quickly realized that families needed items that could be heated at home.
All fourteen CICS school campuses have on-site prep kitchens where food can be prepared and served to students from steam table serving lines, as well as self-serve salad bars. The current curbside pick-up breakfast menu offers shelf stable items along with occasional fresh fruit or juice. Lunch and supper options include ready-to-heat items such as hamburgers, chicken and burritos and there are new items such as chicken legs and other plated entrees being added. Pizza and chicken tenders/nuggets are still a favorite, just as they were when meals were served on campuses. The menus also acknowledge that families may have dietary restrictions so there are always no-meat protein items available. Milk is included with every meal and healthy snacks such as granola bars and raisins are also provided.
Curbside food pickup has been important while students are remote learning. CICS has accommodated most families who drive up to one the campuses; some families walk up to the table if they live close by. Every day, our families have been grateful for their childrens’ meals and for the opportunity to see the food staff, even if they are socially distanced or in their cars. Students are always excited to see their “lunch lady” from the car.
The CICS food service staff are rarely recognized for the important role they play in the lives of our students. At one campus, a mother occasionally cooks lunch for the food service staff and brings it to them on Fridays. This is just an example of how close this community is. They have served 500,000 meals since the middle of March. It is their mission, especially during remote learning, to create high quality meals that students want to eat and to get those meals to every family. Many parents realize that, without food service staff, their children would not have the meals they usually receive while in school. It shows how important they are!
As a school community, our priority is to keep every student fed. Even when school schedules change or holidays come and go, distribution times are adjusted. CICS has also added an additional morning pick-up time to accommodate family schedules.
At Ralph Ellison, Mr. Woghiren believes that the athletic side of education is just as important as academics.
Last year, CICS Ralph Ellison teacher Jon Gibfried took a professional development course through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. He never thought that this simple course would open the door for he and fellow teacher Aaron Marshall to implement a Hamilton themed program and join 40 CICS Ralph Ellison students for a special performance of Hamilton! An American Musical.
March 13, 2020
Dear CICS Families,
We have appreciated your support, feedback and patience over the last two weeks as we have worked together to navigate the uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19. In alignment with Governor Pritzker’s mandate to close all Illinois schools and under the guidance of public health officials, CICS will close all of our schools beginning on March 16 through at least March 30, with the possibility of a longer closure, depending on the circumstances at the end of the month.
Please know that this is not a decision that we have taken lightly, but one that we have made to put the health and well-being of our students, families, staff and communities at the forefront. We understand that the next two weeks, and possibly longer, will be difficult and, in partnership with Distinctive Schools, Civitas Education Partners and ReGeneration Schools, CICS plans to support our students and families in every way that we can. We recognize the incredible burden this puts on our families, and that, while it helps us mitigate the spread of the virus, it creates other significant challenges. Thank you for understanding that this decision was made to support the well-being of our community.
CICS and our SMO partners are committed to supporting our students’ continued learning throughout the closure. On Monday, school leadership teams and office staff will be at each CICS campus to distribute virtual learning materials to families that did not receive them on Friday. Individual campuses will communicate instructions for the distribution of these materials to their families no later than Sunday at noon. We are actively working with CPS and our food service provider to determine the method for the distribution of meals for our students throughout the closure. Where possible, we sent students home today with breakfast items for Monday morning in case of a potential closure. We are also working with CPS to create a list of community supports for child care, as we know this closure creates a burden on our families. We will follow up no later than the end of day on Monday with more information about these resources.
Throughout the closure, we will communicate with our parents and guardians via email on a weekly basis, or more frequently as needed and we will share updates via the CICS website, www.chicagointl.org.
Please know that our CICS team is here to provide resources and support to you and your child throughout this challenging situation. During times like these, we commit to coming together to take care of every member of the CICS community.
Chicago International Charter School
Congratulations CICS Loomis-Longwood High School Basketball Coach Keyon Smothers!
Erika Frazier wasn’t thinking about a career in education when she left Michigan and came to Chicago to care for her grandmother. Her family had always been involved in Christian ministry, so she saw her life as one of service but not necessarily in education. For those who have worked with her, it is not a surprise that Ms. Frazier will celebrate her twelfth year as a paraprofessional at CICS Ralph Ellison.
Parents of diverse learners understand the role that paraprofessionals play in the academic lives of their children. CICS parent, Ms. Vivan Davis said, “ Mrs. Frazier is a great help to my daughter. I love that she takes her time to explain things to her so she understands.”
Throughout her professional career, Ms. Frazier worked at other schools in the Chicago area but ultimately found a home at Ralph Ellison and her niche as a paraprofessional working with diverse learners. She was drawn to that particular student population as she experienced so many rewarding moments in watching her students grow and go above and beyond expectations. Erika’s kind but no nonsense personality is something her students’ parents value. She has created long-term relationships with many of them through her consistent and persistent outreach. For Ms. Frazier, her customer service skills were learned early on in her professional life when she worked in a hotel. Having a people skills has become an even more important part of her job as families of diverse learners are often overwhelmed by the multiple challenges they face. She ensures that families are aware of upcoming events in their students’ lives, understand options when problems arise and see her as an advocate for their child.
Navigating Remote Learning
Now, more than ever, paraprofessionals who have established face to face instruction, prior to remote learning, provide diverse learners with a sense of personal connection and continuity that can help these students to continue to progress. Ms. Frazier is even more present for her students, using every available tools (phone calls, video chats and email) to ensure that they are learning. She is with each student in their Zoom classrooms, keeping an eye on their level of participation, checking on them if they appear to be lost or confused and, most importantly, creating a culture where diverse learners feel safe but are also held accountable. For students on the autism spectrum, she finds ways to encourage them to express their emotions in safe and appropriate ways. While her primary role is to assist them in their academics, Ms. Frazier is also aware of the need to make sure that diverse learners are learning life skills and will be able to navigate the world after they leave Ralph Ellison.
Erika Frazier is continuing her own education and has been attending Grand Canyon University part-time, with the goal of becoming a SPED teacher. She sees this as the next step on the path in her education career. Until then, Ms. Frazier will continue to support her students. She is continually energized by feedback from parents, occasional connections with former students and seeing younger siblings and cousins of her students choose to attend Ralph Ellison.
Ms. Erika Frazier has been a paraprofessional at CICS Ralph Ellison for 12 years. Prior to coming to Ralph Ellison, Ms. Frazier worked at Proviso West High School in Hillside, IL. Ms. Frazier is currently attending Grand Canyon University to complete her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Special Education.
This month, in honor of National Principals Month, we will continue to highlight a few of the incredible men and women who are leading our schools.
March 13, 2020
Dear CICS Families:
I want to thank each of you for your attention to the developing situation regarding COVID-19, or coronavirus, in Chicago and nationally. As of now, we are not aware of any confirmed cases of or concerning exposure to COVID-19 at any of our campuses. I want to assure you that CICS is closely monitoring the situation and working with CPS and local public health officials to offer guidance to our staff, students and families. As always, the health and safety of our students and teammates are our highest priorities.
Over the last week, CICS has put together a COVID-19 Response Team to stay up-to-date on the latest local developments and recommendations from CPS, the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control, as well as to field questions from our staff and families and develop and communicate guidance as CICS responds to the evolving COVID-19 situation. While it is our hope that our schools will remain open and operating on their regular schedules in the weeks and months ahead, we are also working on contingency plans for remote learning and for access to the school food program in the event of a prolonged closure. Please complete this two-minute survey so that we can properly prepare for support should we need to close one or more campuses.
We’re also taking reasonable precautions to limit the exposure to and prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our schools and the surrounding communities. While we are still permitting local travel within the Chicago city limits, we have made the difficult decision to cancel or postpone all staff and student non-local domestic and international travel on behalf of CICS from now through April 10, 2020, the last day of Spring Break. This includes CICS-sponsored and coordinated student spring break trips and college tours. We recognize how disappointing this decision may be, especially for trips that our students have been anticipating for some time, but this month-long pause will allow us to focus on limiting potential exposure and managing risks, while we monitor the latest developments.
We will also be canceling or postponing student gatherings and events outside of the regular school day. After-school programs will continue at our campuses as scheduled. Cancelled or postponed events may include concerts, parent events and dances, and your school director will follow up with more details about plans for scheduled events.
While the current situation is concerning, there is quite a bit that we can do to limit exposure to and prevent the spread of the virus. I assure you that our team is continuing to follow the latest developments and we will continue to update our families as the situation evolves. Thank you for your continued trust in CICS and for allowing us to continue to be a resource for you and your family.
Chicago International Charter Schools
In June, I wrote a Voices Blog piece to share more with our community about how we make our budgetary decisions at CICS and what the incoming federal relief dollars might mean for how we support our schools, teachers, and students this school year.
Now, a few months into this school year, I have the pleasure of being able to follow up on my piece and share more about our priorities, our spending, and most importantly, the impact we hope to see from this landmark investment in our schools.
Overall, CICS received funds from three federal relief bills passed in 2020 and 2021: the CARES Act in April 2020; the Coronavirus Relief Bill in December 2020; and the American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021. The most recent of these relief packages, the American Rescue Plan Act, resulted in an influx of approximately $7.7 million to invest across all 13 CICS campuses. While each SMO and schools had the autonomy to spend their dollars as they deemed necessary, I know we were all united around the common priorities and values that drive decision-making across our network.
To ensure every student in the CICS community can flourish, we had to ask ourselves some important questions before allocating these dollars. How do we get our kids back into schools safely on a full-time basis? Once they’re there, how do we keep kids and teammates safe in our schools without taking away dollars from instruction? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we use funds to equally prioritize both social-emotional health and academic recovery?
The answers to these questions are what ultimately drove our spending decisions. I am eager to share some of the big ways we invested our dollars:
The above priorities certainly don’t fully encompass all the ways that we have leveraged this $7.7 million in additional dollars for our students. However, I hope they have given you a window into how we translate these priorities into concrete expenditures. And, perhaps more importantly, I hope they give you insight into the kinds of impact we hope to see in the months and years ahead.
If we invest in the tools and resources to keep our communities safe, we can mitigate dangerous exposures before they start and instead focus on rebuilding our communities and supporting learning. If every student has a laptop and access to both in-person and virtual instruction, we know learning can continue despite any obstacles. If we acknowledge the challenges facing our schools in terms of staffing and capacity, and innovate around personnel accordingly, we can help provide some much needed relief. And if we are constantly learning about and investing in our students’ needs – both academic and social-emotional – then we know we can set them on a path towards seizing the kinds of successful futures they each deserve.
As I mentioned in June, an organization’s budget and spending tells the story of what matters to them. I hope in communicating a little more about how CICS has spent these precious federal relief dollars, you now have better insight into the concrete ways we are prioritizing our schools, teachers, and students during this landmark school year.
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.
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.
Click here to learn more about Allison!