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.  

Principal Spotlight: Derrick Orr

CICS Wrightwood is a K-8 elementary school that opened in 2005 on Chicago's South Side. The school is led by Principal Derrick Orr who ensures that his dedication shows the school's intentions for preparing students for high school and beyond by emphasizing achievement through action and accountability. 

A partnership of teachers, staff, families and community work together to create a nurturing environment where all students are offered rigorous and engaging learning opportunities that foster student understanding of themselves and the world. Principal Orr pushes his students and staff to demonstrate the intellectual skills, cultural competence, belief in self and the engagement in community necessary for success in school, college, the workplace and life. 

Read more from Principal Orr and learn more about his dynamic leadership. To learn about CICS Wrightwood you can visit their Facebook page and website

1. Why did you decide to become a principal?

My mother was a former teacher. I remember as a student I would complain to her all the time about my student experience. Her answer was always the same. “If you don't like the way things are being run, put yourself in position to make it better.” I will never forget those words. That is what pushed me to be an educator and a Principal.

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

Positively impacting the life of a student. I have always wanted to change the life of a student the way someone changed my life. I believe in giving back and being an example of what hard work looks like.

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

That is a hard question. I guess if you were to ask a staff member they would probably say my ability to get everyone on the bus. My dedication to my craft and my love for students is a close second.

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

I think we have the best parents and staff of any campus in Illinois. They are always willing to get better, accept feedback, and push students to give their very best. You couldn't ask for more than that. I have amazing teachers that give 110% each day. 


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

I believe in relationship building.   When students are in class, I am in class giving feedback to teachers and engage students in learning. When they are at lunch and recess, I am also spending time with students eating and playing with different activities. I believe that when students believe that you care they will go the extra mile for you. I try hard to know my students both academically and socially.  

6. How are you making those connections now?

I make connections daily,  with students, staff, families, and community partners. I always look for a way to close gaps and make us better as a school. Connections and relationships are key.

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

To make sure all of our students are reaching their On-Track Metrics.  To have a school that students feel safe in and want to attend on a daily basis.  To build solid partnerships that help us reach our full potential, to build the capacity of teachers and make data driven decisions. 

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

I would start my own Charter school. I would create a school of Global Learners. I would like my students to receive educational experience in the United States and visit other countries around the world so that they have full experience and exposure to other cultures.


Derrick Orr currently serves as the Director of CICS Wrightwood Elementary School. Mr. Orr oversees all academics and operations within the school and supports 27 teachers, 16 para-professionals, three Instructional coaches and two assistant principals in their leadership roles at the school. When Mr. Orr arrived at Wrightwood the school was a level (2) school. Prior to the pandemic, Wrightwood had moved to a level 2+ status and 2/10 points from reaching level I. 

Director Orr is responsible for improving and supporting all aspects of teaching and learning school-wide. His commitment to over 725 students is to ensure equity in access to high-quality educational opportunities. Prior to coming to CICS Wrightwood Director Orr previously was the head principal at Manierre Elementary School in the Cabrini Green area from 2012-2018. When Director Orr took over leadership responsibilities at George Manierre Elementary School; it was on probation for over ten years, was a level (3) school and was slated to be closed. In his first four year tenure at Manierre the school was saved and off of probation, was a level one school and was 1/10 of a point from receiving the highest rating of Level 1 +. Taking over as school leader was a natural transition from his previous role as Assistant Principal, Instructional Coach and Dean of Students. Mr. Orr began his teaching career in Chicago Public Schools as a self-contained Special Education teacher for the first (10) years of his career. Mr. Orr is a proud graduate of CPS where he attended both elementary and high school in Chicago. 

Director Orr received several prestigious awards from the mayor for improving student growth in both reading and math and has helped transform many schools that struggled academically and culturally to become successful. 

Since coming to CICS Wrightwood Director Or has helped develop the Middle School College Tour that takes students across the country to visit some of the top Universities and HBCUs. Director Orr goal is to make sure every student has a chance to experience a visit to a university. With the overwhelming amount of violence in Chicago, it is extremely important that students get a chance to see a different life outside of their communities. In addition, if students have a chance to witness the greatness of college in 8th grade they will be better prepared and focused for high schools which traditionally don’t do college visits until their junior year.  Director Orr has also built partnerships with The Chicago Bears, Marianos, Trader Joe's, Monumental Faith Church, Global Girls, and Fifth Third Bank just to name a few organizations. 

Director Orr also believes in developing Change Makers and Agents of change with his Civic Engagement projects such as feeding over 200 families, Partnering with neighborhood churches to provide music and dance programs and fundraising thousands of dollars to Cancer just to name a few. Director Orr is definitely someone we all can be proud of. His dream is to one day own his own Charter school where he continues his quest for excellence.

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


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, 



[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.



Student Spotlight: A Young Author Responds to the Pandemic

More than 1,000,000 books are published in the US each year. In January of 2021, a paperback book, The Covid Monitor, was published. The audience is elementary age children, and the narrator is a young girl explaining her plans to keep everyone safe at her school when school opens back up. What makes this book unique among the millions of books is that it was written by CICS Wrightwood 4th grader London Warren with her mother, April Warren, as her co-author.

London’s inspiration for her book was Sunshine Day, the book her mother wrote and published in 2015. She said, “It seemed fun, so I decided to write a book too.” London regularly writes fiction, and loves creating characters and making up stories. Surprisingly, it only took her two days to write the story to the illustrated 30-page book. Their collaborative process was simple with London writing out her part of the story on paper and her mother April adding to the story and then typing up the manuscript.

London pic April recalled that, “When London came to me about her book idea, I jumped right on it after I heard how knowledgeable she was regarding Covid safety.” Having worked as a special education classroom assistant at CPS and as a part-time drama teacher at CICS ChicagoQuest, April was keenly aware that kids are more likely to listen to their peers about issues because they can relate to them. She wanted to ensure that young people took Covid-19 seriously and thought what better way to enlighten them than to have the message come from a young author.

One of the interesting elements in the book is an embedded vocabulary lesson. April explained the inspiration for it. “Asymptomatic is a hard word to pronounce. Londwon had struggled with pronouncing it correctly, so I felt it was necessary for the child in the book to mispronounce the word to allow room for a fun spin on the word and to provide a vocabulary lesson.”

Both authors love to read. Some of London’s favorite books include Charlotte's Web, Dog Man and All Summer in a Day. April’s favorite author is Robert Kiyosaki and his book, Rich Dad Poor Dad, as well as her love of classic books including A Raisin in the Sun and To Kill a Mockingbird.

This is their first collaboration but not their last. London is writing her own movie script, again inspired by her mother. April already sees the success of the book. “It is educational and speaks directly to a huge issue that is plaguing the entire world and, most importantly, one of the authors is a young child.”

 London’s advice to other aspiring young authors is simple. “I would tell them to write their book because, if I can do it, they can do it.” She hopes that kids pay attention to what her book says because it can help them stay safe from Covid or other health crises in the future. We look forward to continuing to follow London’s career as an author, playwright and 5th grader.


Mrs. April Warren is an award winning screenwriter and film producer. She runs her own real estate company and has a not-for-profit organization called Art Is Life. Their goal is to help young children become published authors. She is also an author, having written and published Sunshine Day in 2015. London Warren is a 4th Grader at CICS Wrightwood.


When I think about how and why I became the person I am today, it really centers on three things: Access, Community, and Voice.

Voices Blog Pt. II: What I Learned from CICS Wrightwood Still Applies to Me Today

What I Learned from CICS Wrightwood Still Applies to Me Today

I have now been at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School for over two years! As a native south side Chicago African-American woman, and CICS Wrightwood graduate, I have come a long way from home. 

Since I started law school in the fall of 2019, I’ve learned about myself and the legal profession. Although law school is unlike any other schooling I have experienced, my ease at transitioning to law school can be attributed to my experiences as a student at CICS Wrightwood. 

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.

Voices-Part I: Influence and Motivation Starts at a Young Age

On my first day as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a professor told me, “teachers impact your life forever; no one can tell where their influence stops.” We engaged in a discussion about our past educational experiences, particularly those where teachers influenced our decisions to pursue a bachelor’s degree and I reflected on my CICS Wrightwood elementary school experiences when he was talking to me.

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