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1. What is your teaching and administration experience?

I taught for six years before becoming an assistant principal. I was fortunate enough to teach an all-male classroom for my last three years of teaching. That experience was life-changing. I served as the assistant principal of the high school I graduated from, Percy L. Julian High School, for four years and went on to acquire a principal position at Coles Language Academy on the city of Chicago's southeast side. I was the principal for nine years leading Coles school from one of the identified worst (Level 3) schools to one of the identified best (Level 1+) schools. I was promoted to chief of schools where I led 30 elementary schools and five high schools. Student achievement and school rating designations increased over my two-year tenure as chief of schools. I was presented with the opportunity to increase my current knowledge base and engagement at the high school level, so I transitioned into the high schools network operations manager position where I was strategically placed with a chief of schools that used my instructional expertise to develop and implement systems and structures to support our 20 network area high schools. 

2. What got you interested in working in education?

Great story. I joined an organization named Future Teachers of Chicago in my junior year of high school. To be honest, I joined because they went on a lot of field trips. As my high school career was about to conclude, I did not have a college I was interested in attending. I decided to join the Army so my parents would not go into debt to pay for my education. I went through all my tests and was informed where I would be stationed but I was 7 pounds underweight. During the week I was eating potatoes and bananas to gain weight, go back and weigh in, I received a letter in the mail informing me I was receiving a full academic scholarship to attend Chicago State University to major in teaching. That letter fulfilled my goal of not putting pressure on my parents to pay for my college education. I attended CSU and fell in love with teaching and kids. I have enjoyed the education field ever since. I have been blessed and my path was aligned to go into the education field. This is what I was born to do. 

3. What will you be doing as the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning in Decatur?

I am tasked with ensuring the instructional opportunities we are providing to all students are preparing them for the next grade level and life success. I want to ensure our teachers are well-informed and trained about teaching and learning strategies that will prepare our students for the next grade level and/or content area that will ensure their success in life. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this overall success, which is why it is critical that all stakeholders are a part of this process. Regardless of title or position, everyone has a part in ensuring our students have quality experiences aligned to teaching and learning. Along with providing quality teaching and learning experiences we have to constantly ask the question: How do we know it's working? When we can consistently answer that question and are able to articulate that clearly, we are on the right path to success. 

4. When you're not working, what are some of your favorite things to do?

When I'm not working, I love to take advantage of outside experiences like nature walks and walking in parks. I like being near the water. I love to travel. My personal wellness is a priority. I'm a huge sports fan, so I mostly travel to follow my favorite sports teams. I love playing sports also. My two favorites are basketball and football. I like challenging my inner self and engaging in activities that give me an adrenaline rush. I enjoy talking to my family. A great day is when I talk to my mother, father and daughter on the same day. I love cars, mainly muscle and fast cars. I also enjoy relaxing at times like simple things of lying on the couch, listening to the outside world with no distractions. 

5. What are some goals you would like to complete while working for Decatur Public Schools? Any advice for children in DPS right now?

My goal is to increase student achievement each year while working for Decatur Public Schools. I want to highlight the strengths within the district and use them as motivation to decrease our areas of weaknesses. I want to increase community involvement as this was topic of discussion during my interview process. I want to increase the life independence of all students who graduate from Decatur Public Schools, meaning students are able to live independently as a result of graduating from Decatur Public Schools. That may be via college, trade school or alternative approaches to living life independently, which reduces stress and ultimately increases the life span of all our students and adults.  

The advice that I have for children of DPS right now is please get to know the new assistant superintendent of teaching and learning because he values your voice and really understands that DPS will only grow forward and continue to increase with your voice and involvement in the process. I want you to feel comfortable excelling and showing your greatness. If you work your hardest, you have my word, I will work my hardest to ensure you have high-quality opportunities for a great life. Elementary and high school should be the most enjoyable time periods in life before adulthood, so have fun, be respectable and learn a lot, you do not get a chance to do it over. Take advantage of this opportunity to showcase your greatness. 

Contact Kennedy Nolen at (217) 421-6985. Follow her on Twitter: @KNolenWrites

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