Before Kristi Eilers ever became an educator, she grew up in the small farming town of Fremont, Michigan. To her, in her town, the high school was a place of significance: “It was everything, and everyone went to the football games. It was truly the highlight of the whole community.”
Now, as an assistant principal at Amundsen High School on Chicago’s North Side, Eilers strives to create that same sense of community at her school.
“We want to become that No. 1-plus neighborhood school that students want to come to,” Eilers said.
Today, Eilers serves as one of three assistant principals at Amundsen. After the previous administration retired eight years ago, at a time when the school had a poor reputation and was even slated for potential closure, Eilers and her team came in and have never left.
Joining the new team, Eilers was eager to turn things around and help make Amundsen a neighborhood school of choice.
It was evident that first the school’s climate and culture needed to be restored.
“There was no student government, homecoming or spirit week, so students didn’t want to come. They didn’t feel connected to Amundsen,” Eilers explained.
So the Amundsen administration got to work: They created a spirit week, recruited for groups such as a cheerleading team and launched several other new initiatives. Soon, students began to feel excited about going to school and attendance increased.
Their team’s priority was to offer a high-quality educational experience that engaged every student and made them excited to learn.
“We try to have something for everyone. We have an International Baccalaureate program for students that want to be more challenged with more rigor. We have a CTE program for students interested in computer programming. For students who want to go into the arts, we have a band, orchestra and choir.”
After culture and curriculum, their next priority was creating community: Amundsen adopted an open-door policy, and community members were invited to come in and meet the students and teachers.
“People viewed us as a bad school,” Eilers explained. “Getting people in the school was huge, so they could see how passionate our students and staff really were.”
External partnerships were crucial to this effort. Friends of Amundsen is a nonprofit organization made up of students, teachers and community members that believe in the school’s mission of preparing students for their futures.
“There were four people on Friends of Amundsen when we arrived, and now we have about 25 people that provide us with immense support. There’s committees within the organization that fundraise for specific things such as athletics, technology and music.”
They’re not the only partners helping make Amundsen’s mission a reality. “Through a partnership with Dyson, we were gifted $150,000 over three years to expand our curriculum and train our teachers.”
Today, Amundsen serves more than 1,300 students and has a Level 1+ performance rating, numerous extracurriculars and educational programs for all students’ interests. Now the school even has a waitlist and is challenged by over-enrollment.
Eilers attributed the school’s success to the strong relationships between the students and staff.
“Every student at Amundsen has a relationship with an adult. We call everyone at Amundsen a teacher because we all have something to teach. Being a teacher doesn’t mean you have to be in the classroom.”
Eilers feels lucky to have had the same administration leading the school over the years, saying that it has allowed the continuation of Amundsen’s progress.
Looking forward to students’ lives after Amundsen, the school’s focus for the past two years has been preparing students for their post-secondary endeavors.
A post-secondary leadership team was created composed of teachers, counselors and even community members dedicated to supporting students and preparing them for any path they may pick.
“We are preparing students for careers that do not even exist yet. We are not preparing them for one specific job instead, we are providing 21st century skills: problem solving, critical thinking and the ability to create viable solutions to problems.”
Through this work, Eilers hopes to make Amundsen the same center of community as her hometown high school. She says that she will know she has succeeded in her mission when her former students return—to teach, to say hi, to tell students about the careers they launched with the skills they learned at Amundsen.