Principal Spotlight: Sarah O'Connell

Written by Chicago International Charter School
24 October 2022
Posted in Educator Spotlight

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!


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. 

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