NEAR NORTH SIDE — The principal at Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts was one of four community leaders to win this year's advocacy awards from the Near North Unity Program.
Principal Robert E. Croston was awarded for his leadership at Jenner, 1119 N. Cleveland Ave., an under-enrolled school that draws students mostly from the Cabrini-Green housing projects.
Croston, who made headlines this fall for being one of the driving forces behind a plan to merge with Ogden International School's overcrowded elementary school, 24 W. Walton St., said he was "very overwhelmed" when he won the award, which he considers a "mandate."
"I think of it as a mandate, not as a trophy. I'm like, 'All right, Croston. You got this community advocacy award ... now get to work.' We are very much in the beginning of what we're doing," said Croston, who accepted the award Thursday evening at a ceremony held at LaSalle Street Church, 1111 N. Wells St. Community organization Near North Unity Program started giving out community advocacy awards in 2012, making this year the fifth installment.
Croston landed at Jenner two years ago after a stint as resident principal at Coles Model for Excellence Language Academy, 8441 S. Yates Blvd., in South Chicago. He earned graduate degrees from Harvard University, University of Chicago and Dominican University.
Under Croston, the school has a new brand that is proudly emblazoned on school uniforms: The Jenner N.E.S.T., which stands for "Be Neighborly. Stay Engaged. Be Scholarly. Use Teamwork." Also during his time as principal, the school hit a three-year high for attendance, and the number of kids that are considered "on track" — meaning the student has a 95 percent attendance rate, C or higher in math and reading and fewer than three misconducts — has gone up 11 percent.
The principal also hosts regular meetings with the community, which he dubbed "Coffee With Croston."
The plan to merge with Ogden did not make it into this year's draft guidelines, which means the schools won't merge by the 2016-2017 year. In an earlier interview, Croston called the decision a "yellow light, not a red light."
Three other community leaders also took home trophies Thursday evening: Near North Side resident and community activist Michele Dreczynski; longtime coach and teacher Vince Carter; and owner of the grocery chain Mariano's, Robert Mariano.
Dreczynski serves on the advisory board and the youth and families committee for Near North Unity Program. As an active member of the community organization, she has spearheaded conversations on improving the area's schools.
Carter has worked as a teacher and coach for Chicago Public Schools since 1976. He's also the executive director of Project Education Plus, an educational and recreational program in the Cabrini-Green area he co-founded in 1980, and a driving force behind Seward Park teams.
On top of his work in education, Carter is a staple at community meetings on the redevelopment of Cabrini-Green.
Mariano, who operates 32 grocery stores across the Chicago area, was awarded for opening a new location in the New City complex, 1500 N. Clybourn Ave., this fall.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: