AUBURN GRESHAM — Leo High School’s new principal says he is ready to step into the role and build a closer relationship with the community.
Woodlawn native Shaka Rawls left Burke Elementary for his new principal job at Leo, 7901 S. Sangamon St. in Auburn Gresham. The 90-year-old, all-male Catholic high school has 130 students.
The predominantly African-American Leo "has always been a community school and we’re now trying to expand our partnerships to make sure that we are not only a part of a community, but the community is present in our curriculum,” he said.
What that means, he said, is incorporating “student voice and community voice through social justice projects,” something he did at his last job.
Rawls, a 1993 grad of Leo, said one mission is to stay better connected with graduates as they make their way through college.
“My new mantra is that we’re no longer the school that gets kids into college, we’re the school that gets kids out of college,” he said. “Our goal is to track and support our students through their college experience in order to make sure their graduation rates in college are just as important as graduation rates from Leo High School.”
Counselors will continue tracking and supporting students even while they’re in college. The goal is to help them get jobs and internships. The school’s strong alumni network will play a big role, too.
The effort is a way to address the difficulties many black students have graduating from college. A recent report by the Education Trust that looked at African Americans across the country found that their completion rate was 40.3 percent compared to 60.7 percent for whites.
Rawls said he never imagined himself returning to Leo as a principal, but he’s grateful for the opportunity. There has been a lot of pressure already, but he said he has a great support system.
Leo High School President Dan McGrath said Rawls is the right man for the job.
"I can’t think of a better man for the job and [I] am particularly proud to have a Leo Man become the chief educator of our young men," he said in a statement.
Rawls started the organization I.M.P.A.C.T., or Inspiring and Motivating Positive Actions for City Teens, which focuses on community engagement and mentoring students. He has more than 14 years of classroom experience and has held teaching positions at both the high school and college level.
Rawls received a bachelor's degree in history from Aurora University and a master's degree in education and instructional leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is currently pursuing his doctorate in educational policy studies from UIC.
Rawls said he has always had a passion for working with young people, which is why he got into education.
One thing he likes about Leo is that it gives families options, he said.
“It’s great for our community to see that there are other alternatives to charter schools and Chicago Public Schools,” he said.
To prepare the school’s students for the real world, the school must address the issues going on outside of the classroom, he said.
“There’s no way we can educate the students in our building without addressing, or at the very least acknowledging, some of the trauma that they experience by just being young African-American men,” he said.
Leo, Rawls said, plans to stay in the community for another 90 years.
“There has been this revitalization at Leo and the public is starting to see more of what we do and not consider us dead or dying. We’re very vibrant,” he said.
The school accepts new students year-round. To learn more call 773-224-9600.
The community is invited to its beautification day Sept. 24 at 9 a.m. at the school. Rawls said he's seeking volunteers to donate cleaning supplies and their time.
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