May 28, 2021 20th Anniversary, Blog

Principal Victor Iturralde Keeps the Magic Alive at Solorio Academy

“Our students deserve the best education. It shouldn’t matter what zip code or what test score they had in order to get into these other schools. We need to do right by them all the time.”

When Principal Victor Iturralde opened Solorio Academy in 2010, he wanted to prove that high-quality education was possible in West Gage Park, where most families are low-income and over 90% of families identify as Latinx. 

“Neighborhood schools are sometimes marketed as the school of last resort,” Iturralde claimed. “And so we wanted to change that.” 

Having previously helped found schools as both a teacher and assistant principal, Iturralde knew what he needed to help Solorio succeed from the start: a clear vision. Solorio would not only “provide an excellent education and foundation for students,” but also set them up for “postsecondary success.”

Today, that vision is a reality. Over the last five years, Solorio has been a Level 1/1+ school, and has even been featured as a Top 20 Public School in Chicago. It also has the highest attendance rate of any neighborhood high school in Chicago. 

What have been the secrets to their success? 

First, Solorio embraces the bilingualism of its students and community. While some might view bilingual education as a challenge, Principal Iturralde emphasizes that Solorio students succeed because of their bilingualism rather than in spite of it. 

Iturralde cited research showing that students who have done dual language programs in elementary school actually outperform their peers in secondary school achievement.  

At Solorio, Spanish learning is viewed as an opportunity. The school has five sections of AP Spanish, in which nearly 100% of students pass and earn college credit. Iturralde also states that one of their future goals is for students to graduate with the Illinois State Seal of Biliteracy. 

Embracing Spanish is equally important outside of the classroom. Because many of Solorio’s teachers and staff are bilingual, they can communicate with parents in Spanish when hosting parent meetings or college and financial aid information sessions. This ensures that families are invited into their students’ education. 

Iturralde also credited Solorio’s success to a “spirit of collaboration among our staff.” 

I think part of the secret sauce of the school is that teachers feel so comfortable sharing, being vulnerable to one another, learning from one another, and just always working on their craft,” he stated. Ironically, this positive culture actually emerged in part due to the problem of school overcrowding; needing to share classroom space, teachers naturally developed deeper relationships. 

Another key part of this culture is the other members of Iturralde’s leadership team: “We also have some of the best assistant principals in the city. They keep the school moving forward and look for ways to innovate and adapt our strategies to keep with the changing times.”

The last key component of Solorio’s success has been external partnerships that strengthen the schools’ resources, curriculum and professional development. 

A corporate sponsor, Salesforce, provided financial support for state-of-the-art equipment for engineering and sciences. City Colleges of Chicago and other university partners helped pave the way for students to earn early college credit. Facing History and Ourselves, an organization dedicated to examining U.S. history through a lens of anti-racism, has also led teacher professional development with the purpose of reshaping how Solorio teaches history. 

Taking the same approach to his role as principal, Iturralde credited The Fund’s Chicago Principal Fellowship as a “very valuable experience” toward strengthening his own leadership. 

Even after a decade at the helm of the school, he has not stopped growing as a leader and does not plan to stop serving his community. 

“It’s been a magical ride so far these 10 years,” he reflected. “But we’re not done. We have a lot left to do.”