By Bridget Galibois and Alexis Park, Copy Editors
The goal of Payton’s two new resident principals, Ms. Kijek and Ms. Ofori, is to make sure the needs of every student are met. They can be seen around the building during passing periods, sitting in on lessons, or teaching history classes. “I am essentially supposed to be Dr. Shabazz’s clone… shadow what she’s doing, see what she’s doing, see how she responds to a conflict, or how she celebrates certain things. [It’s learning] how a strong principal runs a school,” said Ms. Kijek.
According to CPS, resident principals serve alongside principals. This helps them to gain leadership experience while watching how a principal and administration would respond to different events. The goal of the program is to give resident principals an opportunity to learn how to be effective leaders before moving into leadership positions at other schools. Both resident principals are a part of UIC’s Urban Educational Leadership Program to train educators to be future school leaders, under the guidance of a mentor principal.
“That type of work has always intrigued me,” Ms. Ofori said. “Just looking beyond the 140 students that I teach and seeing bigger picture problems- and my interest in that type of work is what made me think about going into administration.”
Backgrounds of Ms. Kijek and Ms. Ofori
Both Ms. Kijek and Ms. Ofori have similar backgrounds before becoming resident principals. Ms. Ofori was raised in Chicago and has always taught in the Chicagoland area. This also extends into her education, as she went to DePaul for her bachelor’s, Roosevelt University for her master’s, and is currently attending UIC for her doctorate. She is in her fourth year of teaching at Payton, prior to which she taught at a charter school and a different CPS school in South Shore. Her experience includes teaching Honors World Studies, AP World History, and AP US History here at Payton.
“I always knew I wanted to work with kids in some capacity, even when I was a kid myself, and I really honestly was not sure how I [knew I] wanted to work with kids, until I was in college,” Ms. Ofori said. “One of my cousins is a history teacher, so I asked him if I could visit him in school because I had [never] really thought about being a teacher before. I observed him for a couple days, and I just fell in love with it.”
But this fall, after a partially remote school year, Ms. Ofori has decided to take on a different challenge: the position of resident principal at Payton, on top of teaching three classes. “I’ve always been really interested in building systems, providing support for students that are struggling or if there’s some sort of issue that seems bigger than just my classroom, trying to provide a solution for that.”
Ms. Ofori was already at Payton working in the classroom and opted to stay at Payton for her resident principalship. This year, she is spending her blue days working with Interim Principal Shabazz, Assistant Principal Ansari, and the rest of the senior leadership team. Her orange days are spent teaching three AP US History classes.
In the future, Ms. Ofori hopes to be an administrator who still teaches a class or two. This would be similar to what past administrators have done, with Former Principal Devine and Former Assistant Principal Adamji serving as administrators as well as teachers. “I’m realizing that for my future, I always want to be connected to the classroom directly,” said Ofori.
Similarly to Ms. Ofori, Ms. Kijek also grew up near Chicago in Lockport, Illinois. She started her college education at Flagler College in Florida, but found conflict in the way that history was represented. Since she knew she wanted to teach in Illinois, she went back to Illinois State University and got her bachelor’s degree through their history program. Eventually, she earned her master’s in Cultural and Educational Policies Study at Loyola Chicago, and is currently studying at UIC for her doctorate in Urban Educational Leadership.
For her, one of the main motivators for her becoming a history teacher was the idea that she could teach history better than the curriculum and textbook she was provided, which conflicted with many of the historical novels she read at home. She decided in seventh grade that she wanted to become a history teacher.
“Where I grew up, saying you want to teach in Chicago was this really radical thing, and even with a lot of my family… They don’t understand why I want to teach in Chicago,” said Ms. Kijek. “I definitely think my experience growing up in Lockport, which was really diverse, helps impact how I view educating students, and my interactions in general. Even just knowing what it was like being on the receiving end of assumptions from adults, [I try] to remain objective in those things.”
Ms. Kijek has worked as a history teacher and in leadership positions at other CPS high schools. The principal mentor she was matched with was Dr. Shabazz, who would guide her through her year of resident principal learning. However, coming to Payton was not Ms. Kijek’s original plan. Dr. Shabazz was previously the founding principal at Crane High School, a CPS school on the Near West Side. After Dr. Shabazz announced that she was leaving Crane to be the interim principal at Payton during the second week of school, Ms. Kijek came to Payton as well to continue her role of shadowing Dr. Shabazz.
Experiences as Resident Principals
Ms. Kijek and Ms. Ofori also recognize the unique perspective the Payton community has, specifically the viewpoint of the Payton administration. “Payton is like nothing I’ve experienced before. At first, my thought was, ‘What can we do at Payton?’ My friend was like, ‘If you don’t know what to do at a school, that’s a school you need to have an experience in’,” said Ms. Kijek. “I’m most excited about being here because I feel like this is the furthest out of my comfort zone. So that means it should be the richest learning experience for me.”
Ms. Ofori described the experience being a resident principal so far as “eye-opening.” One of her current responsibilities is to be in charge of enrichment and seminar activities, and she now knows much more about such processes than she would have as a regular teacher.
“It’s almost like the curtains are being pulled back, and I’m seeing all the little operational pieces and things you have to think about to make all the things that are part of Payton’s culture,” she added. “We’ve really been engaging with what I would describe as very honest conversations. The reality is that the students that we’re teaching right now haven’t been in school in about two years, and we can’t pretend like last year was the same as any other teaching year.”
Recognizing the gravity of the transition back into fully in-person school, the administration acknowledges that they face an especially unique situation this year. “That [means] a lot of conversations about [school] culture and about how we’re meeting students where they [are] at right now, instead of just pretending that we can use the exact same curriculum that we’ve used before- which [in] reality, we can’t do.” Acknowledging the reality of the situation, Ms. Ofori says, is something she’s grateful for, as she says that this year should not be treated like a regular school year.
“No student can learn [and] no teacher can teach if they’re worried about all this other stuff. You need a clear mind,” Ms. Kijek agreed. The administration wants to address the needs of all its students, recognizing that everyone is bringing different concerns when they come to school, and all of them are magnified under the lens of the pandemic.
However, Ms. Kijek also expressed interest in making the most of her year at Payton, and wanting to create a positive learning environment. “I had so much fun in high school, and so I’m like ‘Ooh, what are the fun things we do here?’ I’m just super excited to keep learning from students and working with you [all].”
Images courtesy of Ms. Kijek and Ms. Ofori