GRAND CROSSING — As founder and principal of the Gary Comer College Prep charter high school, James Troupis said he has the best job in the world.
"What more could you ask for than to oversee a school that prepares students for college?" said the 32-year-old North Side resident. "Next to teaching this is the best job I could ever hope for."
And Troupis' efforts to excel as an educator were acknowledged Wednesday when he was selected for the Ryan Award, given by the Accelerate Institute for exceptional leadership in closing the achievement gap in urban K-12 schools.
"He was one of three principals to receive this first-time award, which we plan to make annual," said Robert Birdsell, CEO of the Accelerate Institute.
Birdsell said hundreds of principals from across the country were nominated for the award, and many were from Chicago.
"I can see Chicago snagging another one next year. Chicago has some great principals and some great teachers," Birdsell said.
Each winner also receives $25,000 and an opportunity to teach this summer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
"I have no idea what I will teach there but I'll think of something," Troupis said. "I like training people to be teachers and principals, so maybe I'll do that."
Leading a staff of 63 and a student population of 650 students, Troupis is challenged daily to not only make sure students are learning but to also make sure they are safe at the school, located at 7131 S. South Chicago Ave.
"Grand Crossing has dangers and we have had kids harmed by violence after school but we continue to do all that we can to protect them and prepare them for life after high school," he said.
Troupis earned a bachelor's degree in communications from Northwestern University and a master's degree in education from National Louis University. Founded in 2008, Gary Comer, like Urban Prep Academy high school, has a 100 percent college acceptance rate. In 2012, it graduated its first senior class.
"Most of the students here are African-American, and most of the teachers are white, and people sometimes ask me, 'How does that work?' I tell them color does not matter or should not matter when it comes to education," he said.
"I was a teacher in New Orleans for two years, and taught at some of the worst parts of the city. I did the same in Los Angeles when I worked there training teachers. I worked in schools located in poor, African-American neighborhoods. But when it comes to teaching, the formula for success is the same regardless of race."
Troupis said he wants his 1-year-old daughter to attend Gary Comer when she's ready for high school.
"The worst thing for anyone is not to have a choice. I started this school so parents on the South Side could have a choice where to send their kids and to fill a void of having a quality school that is not selective-enrollment," Troupis said.