BRIDGEPORT — While she was a teacher at Walter Payton Chicago Prep, Katherine Chuu would grade papers at Bridgeport Coffeehouse. She has seen the neighborhood's changes up close, and now that she is the principal at Armour Elementary, Chuu said she wants the school to accommodate and reflect the growing community.
Chuu took over this year as principal of Armour, 950 W. 33rd Place. The school is already a "gem" of the local schools, but Chuu said she has plans for Armour that will strengthen the institution and make it more reflective of the neighborhood.
"Bridgeport is this really dynamic, growing community," Chuu said during an interview in her office Friday. "We want to grow hand-in-hand. I don't want the growth in the community to happen without knowing how to support it and be a resource for the families."
One of Chuu's main goals is to bring more Chinese families into the school. The neighborhood, and the area around Armour, has seen an influx of Asian residents, but Chuu said that demographic change is not reflected in her school. Armour's 265 students are 78 percent Hispanic, 9 percent white, 7 percent black and 5 percent Asian, according to Chicago Public Schools.
"The diversity of our community is not really reflected in our building," she said. "One of my goals this year is to connect with neighborhood families and open my doors here. We're doing some really good things and I want people to know."
Before coming to Armour, Chuu was assistant principal of Roosevelt High School in Albany Park, a school with a diverse and large immigrant population. Chuu said she is well versed in reaching out to such populations and coordinating bilingual education, which could be made available to Chinese families if enough are enrolled, she said.
Chuu, a South Loop resident, also served as assistant principal of Burley Elementary in Lakeview, a school with a large concentration of wealthy families, as well as her time as a teacher at Payton, the selective-enrollment school. The experience has given Chuu a lot to draw from, and she has a lot of ideas for Armour.
One that's already in practice is a robust pre-kindergarten program. Bridgeport has been named one of the hottest housing markets in Chicago — and it's even being touted by the city's tourism bureau as a new hipster hotspot.
To accommodate more young families, Armour opened a second all-day pre-K class at its branch. Chuu said she wants the school's branch to be an early childhood education hub for the neighborhood.
"Early childhood education is a real foundation for school success," Chuu said. "That would be a really great resource especially as the neighborhood is gentrifying and more young families are moving in."
Chuu also wants to start a "friends of Armour School" nonprofit that many schools in affluent areas have. She knows parents wouldn't be able to offer the same kind of support, but Chuu said she plans to enlist local businesses and organizations to help out. A new playground is on her wishlist, especially a place for the early learners to play.
But Armour will only run at full strength when it is truly reflective of its community, Chuu said. And reaching out to new residents is her first order of business.
"I want to connect to them, be a resource for families," she said. "Let them know this school is going to be here for a long time and we're going to do some amazing things."