September 15, 2020 20th Anniversary, Blog

Principal Tai Basurto Paves the Way for the Next Generation

For Principal Tai Basurto from John C. Dore Elementary, to talk about education is to talk about family. 

“You know those t-shirts and mugs that say ‘I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams’?” Basurto asked. “Truly, I am.” 

Basurto’s father came to the US from Mexico as a teenager, and her mother, who is Black, came to Chicago after her grandparents left Georgia during the Great Migration in the middle of the 20th century. Both sides of her family fled forces such as “poverty, segregation and even violence.” 

“I always tell this story because it’s important for people to understand what education means: education is not something that everyone in the world has access to. And even in the United States, as we know it.” 

Despite their lack of a complete formal education, Basurto still says that her grandparents were the “smartest people” she ever knew. They, along with her parents, made it possible for her to succeed academically.

“Before me, people made intentional sacrifices to ensure that I had better,” she stressed, “If I got good grades, we went to the bookstore and I got to pick out a book. My mom took me to the library every Saturday morning. Both my parents read with me every day.” 

“Those stories, those roots, make me a part of something bigger than myself. And that’s a huge part of why I identify as an educator focused on social justice.” 

Today, at Dore, Basurto carries on the legacy of her parents and grandparents as an educator focused on cultivating excellence. 

“The things that I saw as a possibility as a child because of the sacrifices of my parents and grandparents: that’s what I want for every kid. But they may have parents who are working, who can’t take them to the library and the museum or wherever else. So we have a societal obligation to create those opportunities for all kids.” 

For Basurto, the foundation of these opportunities is relationship building: “We have to think about all aspects of the families and kids and make sure we’re meeting them where they are—which is why we have the motto that we have: ‘Every child is nurtured for greatness.’” 

“Nurture,” as it happens, also describes Basurto’s approach to developing students: “My personal vision is really grounded in love and care.” 

“It doesn’t matter who walks in the door. The responsibility is on us to get that child to the best possible place for that child. They all walk in different. And the truth is that they’re all going to leave different.” 

And while each student’s success is individual, the “greatness” at Dore is also collective: the school having earned the distinction of being Level 1+. 

Behind the school’s academic success is one of Basurto’s personal missions: having and leading excellent professional development. As a self-described “professional development junkie”, Basurto’s own love of PD stems from her own inherent love of learning. 

Whereas many view PD as a rote exercise, for Basurto, it feeds her never-ending appetite for more knowledge. As a teacher, each summer, she would travel around the country each summer to learn more about curriculum and practice through organizations such as The National Holocaust Educator’s Network, the National Endowment for the Humanities and Gilder Lerhman. 

Now as a principal, Basurto sees her own PD as an opportunity to invigorate her own love of learning, which can have ripple effects across the school: “The love of learning that I have, I have to support it in my teachers. Because ultimately they support it in the students.”

When supporting her teachers, Basurto says, “Good PD isn’t a session where you learn content.” Instead, “it’s learning about the practice of teaching certain content, and then following up and working together to make sure that lessons are adjusted so that learning potential is maximized.”

Accordingly, for Basurto, PD is a continuous process: “Things are constantly changing in education. PD is important to be constantly learning.” 

For her part, Basurto is also continuing to learn: most recently participating in Deloitte’s Courageous Principal Program, and several of the Fund’s PLCs, which she credits as a “great opportunity for principals to learn and grow together.” 

As she continues to lead at Dore, the love of learning and dedication to education that her family instilled in her will only continue to grow.

“I love it. And I feel like I was born to do this work.” Basurto said, “I really am at the right place at the right time in my life.”