Two things are clear after speaking with Julie Hallums, principal of Funston Elementary in Logan Square, about her recent admittance into a prestigious professional development program through CPS: she cares for Funston deeply and is not in this for accolades. Instead, she’s focusing on the hard work of educating.
The devotion it takes to be a teacher isn’t a new narrative, but the dedication of principals is. Other than folks like Troy LaRaviere (a former principal) and suburban heroes like Jason Markey, no principal rings any bells in my limited knowledge of public memory. To solve this dilemma, CPS and the Chicago Public Education Fund launched the Principal Pride Campaign, encouraging students and staff to give shout-outs on social media with the hashtag #PrincipalPrideChi and to compose short videos highlighting the kind of impact these principals have within their schools.
What Hallums doesn’t boast about is her recent inclusion to the Educator Advisory Committee, a team formed by The Chicago Public Education Fund and made up solely of educators, assembled to foster conversation and share best practices for facing the complex task of managing Chicago schools. Essentially, the Justice League of Chicago Teachers if it had 24 members of the smartest people in their respective rooms.
When Principal Hallums and I arranged a time to talk, it was during lunch at both our day jobs (I was eating, she was not. “Food will happen when it happens,” was her reasoning). When asked about her new steps toward professional development, she had nothing but great things to say — about Funston.
LoganSquarist: Thanks for sacrificing your lunch in the name of students, again I’m sure.
Julie Hallums: Not a problem! I was just finishing up with one of the parent volunteers. We have partnered with LSNA for over 15 years with the Parent Mentor program and I’m very excited to be able to continue the program again this year.The Parent Mentor program provides parents with a small stipend to work with students four days a week for two hours a day. These parents also receive training to better support our teachers and students. It’s really been great so far.
LS: Before we dive headlong into Funston, tell me a little about what shaped you. You’re from Nashville, if I remember correctly?
JH: Well, I’m from a lot of places but was born in Georgia. See, my father was an Army Officer, and we moved every two years until I was 16. My folks do live in Tennessee, though. Maybe that’s why Nashville came to mind. I came to Chicago through Teach 4 America, and I’m going on my 15th year in CPS. We lived in Bolivia for two years as well, and that’s where I picked up Spanish.
LS: It’s been quite the ride for you! Congrats on the new professional development program you’re in, as well.
JH: Are you talking about the Principal Appreciation Campaign?
LS: That. I’m sure the appreciation was a little welcomed, no?
JH: Well, I actually feel very appreciated by my school community. Some others principals may not, though so I am ecstatic that this Campaign has been started by the Chicago Education Fund and CPS. I love the fact that we’re highlighting some of the great things happening instead of the negativity that dominates the education news cycle at times.
LS: So, what are few things happening in your school community we need to know about?
JH: Two recent accomplishments have me really excited about how far we’ve come at Funston. We were chosen by Dr. Janice Jackson to become a part of the CPS Personalized Learning Cohort beginning our second year of in 2017. This project was furthered by a $250,000 grant we were awarded by kCura that helped us put a device in every child’s hands from first to eighth grade! It also helped us completely re-imagine our classrooms, exposing students to more ed. tech tools and helped us redesign our classroom spaces, creating these environments kids really want to be in. There’s been so much growth and attainment for our students, measured by the NWEA assessment. Can I dive into some of the specifics?
LS: I’d love that.
JH: So I’ve got the facts pulled up right here, and our 3rd through eighth grade English Reading scores have grown from 58% to 86%. Our math growth has grown from 19% to 66%! You see, ‘growth’ from last year’s scores plus our percentage of ‘attainment’ in lessons is how we quantify achievement. But our growth stat is the most important to me! It fuels the rest. Our overall growth went from 46.2%, hitting target scores up to 58.4%. We are currently a level 2+ school but are shooting, and I know we will soon reach that Level 1 status. We’ve got an amazing teaching staff that will help us get there.
LS: I could not be happier for you all at Funston. It sounds like so much is still in store for you guys. How can we get involved with that progress, aid in that development in some way?
JH: One thing I want people to know is that, in a changing neighborhood like Logan Square, you can come into Funston and get to know us. We have incredible staff and teachers who want to engage with the neighborhood. We need people on local school councils who care. We absolutely encourage people to volunteer if they have the means, but we have to start coming to an understanding that the power to affect change within a neighborhood begins at their local school.
LS: And what’s the next event we could come show our support at?
JH: November 15th is report card pick-up day (dun dun dun!), and we’re having a bazaar to draw others in. At the “Fall Funston Bazaar,” a kind of rummage sale, we’ll be selling donations and goods brought from within the community, and all proceeds go directly to students. We’re even making that day something you can enjoy.
For a recap on all the feedback given during the Principal Appreciation Campaign just search the hashtag #PrincipalPrideCHI on Twitter. To keep up with our local hero and champion of students Julie Hallums, you can find her on Twitter at @PrincipalJulie as well.