Michelle R. Willis

Frank L. Gillespie Elementary School

About Michelle R. Willis

Dr. Michelle R. Willis is a proud product of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and a graduate of Whitney Young Magnet High School. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics and Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin, a Masters in the Teaching of Reading and a Masters in Educational Administration from Chicago State University, and a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from Loyola University Chicago. Most recently, she was a member of the second cohort of the Chicago Principals Fellowship.

Michelle started her career with CPS in 1993 as a classroom teacher. She also served as a reading specialist and assistant principal prior to becoming a principal. For six years, she was simultaneously an adjunct professor at Chicago State University where she taught graduate courses to students seeking to become reading specialists. In 2004, she was selected as the principal of Nia Middle School and Foundations Elementary School, two small schools on academic probation housed in the same building. While there, Michelle successfully led both schools off probation. In April 2007, Michelle became the principal of Gillespie Elementary School, which was on probation and suffering from a negative school climate. Over the past nine years, the school has received numerous grants and academic awards and its academic probation was lifted six years ago.


Michelle’s mantra of never-ending, continuous improvement is embedded in all of her endeavors. She is both excited and humbled to be selected as a 2016-2017 Cahn Fellow. Michelle sees the Cahn Fellows Program as an excellent opportunity to collaborate with other educators, sharpen her leadership skills and resolve a specific problem of practice within her school. She looks forward to the professional development and tailored experiences that will have a positive impact on the students and teachers at Gillespie.