September 19, 2021 Blog

Assistant Principal Virag Nanavati Joins the Wendell Phillips Community

Hundreds of framed black and white portraits adorn the hallways of Wendell Phillips Academy High School. Photos of notable alumni like Annie Lee, Audrey Forbes-Manley, and Vera Green form a private walk of fame on the first floor, reminding students and visitors alike of Phillips’ contributions to Chicago and the world. 

The school’s communal significance is as far-reaching as its historical distinction; as one of the first predominantly Black high schools in Chicago, Phillips Academy has graduated several generations of families native to the Bronzeville neighborhood and South Side in an unshakeable tradition of Black excellence. That tradition continues today: its football team was the first in CPS to win an Illinois High School Association football championship, not once but twice

The newest addition to its legacy? Assistant Principal Virag Nanavati, who joined the staff in the midst of remote learning in January 2021.

“I think it really serves as inspiration of what is possible when all the right things are put into place to help kids be successful,” Nanavati said of Phillips’ formidable reputation. 

Nanavati is the product of such a sentiment. Prior to immigrating to the United States as a high schooler, “I didn’t have the best reputation as a student,” Nanavati admitted. But he credits committed teachers who pushed him to realize his full potential with transforming his relationship with school and boosting his confidence. It’s what inspired him to first become a middle school science teacher at Ariel Community Academy, and then Assistant Principal at Pierce and most recently DeWitt Clinton Elementary School. “The way a teacher believes in a student can really mold the rest of their life,” Nanavati attested.

Already, Nanavati is a fierce advocate for his students and wants to see them succeed beyond the classroom and after high school. “There’s a real opportunity at this school to develop programming that allows our students opportunities to explore careers and gain career-specific training,” he said. The Career and Technical Education offerings at Phillips currently include digital media and computer science classes, but Nanavati wants to expand to architecture, health sciences, and engineering in hopes of giving students meaningful and practical experience in fields that will consistently supply jobs.

The staff shares his vision, particularly Michael Mancini, a special education teacher at Phillips, who committed to running a marathon in May 2021 to raise money for a new STEM department — Nanavati remembered watching him train. Already Mancini has raised upwards of $250,000 and programs across the nation — Lead the Way, 

Northwestern Medicine, University of Alabama Huntseville, and AeroStar Aviation, just to name a few — have submitted offers to collaborate with students and help supplement theSTEM curriculum outside of school. 

“We’ve made a lot of progress at this school,” Nanavati said — and it’s true, only a mere decade ago was Phillips lowest-ranked in the state. But with a committed administration and staff, passionate students, and valuable community partnerships, Phillips is on its way to becoming a hub for collegiate success with a state-champion athletic program to boot.

“We’re ready to continue working hard to give Bronzeville a true neighborhood school that they’re proud to call their own,” Nanavati affirmed. Make no mistake: the next generation of notable alumni to wreathe Phillips’ halls with their portraits? They’re already sitting in its classrooms.