By Kate Lavin, Editor-in-Chief
The founding principal of Crane Medical Prep, Fareeda Shabazz-Anderson is bringing her expertise and energy to Payton as its interim principal. Shabazz-Anderson is a Chicago native and alum of Homewood-Flossmoor High School in the south suburbs. She attended Howard University, originally a pre-med major, but switched to a career path in education. “I actually changed my major to psychology and political science because I wanted to advocate on behalf of young people,” said Shabazz-Anderson in a recent Paw Print interview. “There are a lot of great doctors in the world, a lot of great attorneys, maybe my contribution to the world will be through education.”
Originally a teacher, Shabazz-Anderson made the shift to administrator in hopes of having a greater effect on her students. “I always wondered what could happen if I could take what I was doing in my classroom and scale it up,” said Shabazz-Anderson. This aspiration led to an increased interest in administration and eventually allowed Shabazz-Anderson to found her own high school on the Near West Side. After working a summer internship with the New School office in CPS, Shabazz-Anderson had wanted to start this project but never imagined that hope would come true. As a pre-med major, she knew the things needed by students in order to succeed in higher education. “I had an opportunity to hire all of my teachers, to develop the curriculum, to develop the culture of the school, the mission and vision,” said Shabazz-Anderson. Put in one word, her experience at RTC Medical Prep was a “dream.”
While at Crane High School, Shabazz-Anderson went viral in 2019. During her school’s homecoming pep rally, the DJ began to play one of Shabazz-Anderson’s favorite songs. “I started dancing and all the kids started cheering [for] me. And the company that came to DJ, they recorded it first and they put some tagline on it like ‘Your principal could never,’” recalled Shabazz-Anderson, laughing. “So then I shared it on my personal social media with my friends and the caption was like ‘I still got it!’ and it had the 100 at the end. I was trying to be funny.” Eventually making the post public, the video of her dancing went viral, even leading her to be featured on Chicago’s own Windy City Live. “I didn’t realize how important it would be until we had to cut the year short for them,” said Shabazz-Anderson. “I love [my students] and we didn’t get to celebrate them the way we wanted to so I’m glad they have that. This happened my senior year, instead of ‘the world shut down and I didn’t have my prom,’ they could be like ‘My principal went viral!’” Shabazz-Anderson seemed to be repeating history, as a post was recently circulated of her dancing on Payton’s dance floor during homecoming on October 9th.
Shabazz-Anderson was introduced to the Payton community through an email in late summer 2021 as its interim principal, having left her previous position. Though currently an interim, Shabazz-Anderson stated that she would stay if the full-time position was offered. Shabazz-Anderson emphasized the importance of being a caring administrator, especially in terms of teacher relationships. “For school, we spend most of our time here. For teachers, we spend more time at work than we do with our own families. Students become an extension of our family,” said Shabazz-Anderson. “My responsibility as a leader is to make sure that the teachers are able to help the students find their path and explore what it is that they need. I’m not here this year to make a lot of changes…This is a period of healing for the Payton community.”
When asked what attracted her most to Payton, Shabazz-Anderson replied that it was the teachers. “I came by one day and we had a meet-and-greet, and our teachers were all bubbly and they were excited to see each other,” said Shabazz-Anderson. “It was the energy in the room that got me really excited about it.” In addition to the staff, Shabazz-Anderson also saw the opportunity to close gaps at Payton between marginalized students and “would love to be a part of that work.” Shabazz-Anderson continued, saying, “I know that Payton takes their ranking and things like that very seriously, which is very very important, but if we’re a world-class school, we have to be a world-class school at everything.”
Payton has recently had issues surrounding racial equity, most recently over the summer. During Sophomore Connection, there was an incident in which a student used a racial slur. An email was sent out to notify the community and the student engaged in talks with staff. This episode led many students to question what the discipline structure will look like under the new administration. Shabazz-Anderson stated that the administration does not currently have someone dedicated to discipline issues, and instead, they have been responding to issues as they arise. “We’ve been talking to them about correcting their behavior because, in addition to learning how to do school[work] and content, we’re also teaching our young people how to be good citizens and good people, and how to make the right decisions,” said Shabazz-Anderson. “We know that we’re dealing with teenagers and that they will make mistakes, so we’re trying to be as restorative as possible.” However, Shabazz-Anderson went on to say that there are other situations in which the administration should not be as lenient, especially those which make other students uncomfortable or when actions are done out of malice.
On the topic of discipline, Shabazz-Anderson said she would like to implement an honor code, in which students and staff commit to honoring other cultures and identities, as well as treating others with respect, a system often used at the collegiate level. “Everyone who comes into this building should feel safe. I feel like if you can’t go anywhere else, you can come to school and know that this is your home away from home, and this is a comfortable space for you,” said Shabazz-Anderson. “You all have an awesome responsibility, as students, as leaders in the educational space, to model not only what it means to be a great student, but also what it means to be a good person.”
Shabazz-Anderson hopes to have an academic, as well as social, impact in her time at Payton by creating more pathways and opportunities for students. Shabazz-Anderson wishes to provide the option for students to take college-level courses, especially for those who did not have access to higher-level classes previously. “The Payton community, the students here, would be up for the challenge. I think that will make their transcripts very competitive compared to other schools, and it will also give our students exposure to what it’s like to be in college level classes,” said Shabazz-Anderson on this goal.
Going on to describe her own days in high school, Shabazz-Anderson recalled the excitement of Friday night sports games and pep rallies as “on fire with school spirit.” She hopes to bring this same passionate attitude to Payton and understands that because Payton students are high-achieving, they also need time to have fun. Shabazz-Anderson, as she describes herself, is “the fun principal” and emphasized the importance of enthusiasm. “I think we all need to bring the joy back.”
Image courtesy of Dr. Fareeda Shabazz-Anderson