Pullman Proud: Social Justice and Service

Steps away from the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, students at Butler College Prep receive an education grounded in the arts and social justice befitting of their location. Five years ago, founding principal Chris Goins opened a new campus of the Noble Network of Charter Schools in the historic Southside neighborhood of Pullman. Home of the first all-black union and credited with the foundation of the black middle-class through the Pullman Porter Company, the neighborhood carried particular significance for Chris, who was raised in North Carolina among what he calls “black excellence.”

Yet, when Chris opened Butler in 2012, he found a community with high poverty and a high rate of unsolved homicides. Inspired by Pullman’s history and the great civil rights leaders before him, Chris molded his new school around a mission of social justice and the arts. “When kids know and understand how racism has impacted them and their communities,” says Chris, “they will be charged with being the great change agents we need to see.”

Programming at Butler speaks to the mission of social justice. Each advisory – a single gender homeroom class that stays together for all four years of high school – is named after an important social justice leader. Chris’ advisory is named for W.E.B. DuBois. Chris uses DuBois’ teachings and leadership to inspire his advisees.

Core classes incorporate social justice as well and culturally competent content. Ninth graders take a civics course that looks at government through a critical lens. Students learn the structures of American government, but they also look at how policies have disenfranchised groups of people throughout history. In 10th grade, students learn how the outcome of wars created racial and ethnic power shifts in history. “We talk about racism, sexism, classism, all of the –isms,” says Chris.

New in the 2017-18 school year, Butler is offering a senior-level forensic science class. “One of the things we’ve realized,” Chris says, is that “there aren’t many black and brown private detectives, forensic scientists or crime scene investigators.” Chris hopes that students will be inspired by their senior science class to go on to study forensics in college. “Maybe the Chicago Police Department can hire some forensic scientists from our program.”

Outside of the classroom, Butler students continue their social justice curriculum with hands-on experiences targeting problems in their community. One student participated in Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s tech program to help design an app that tracks shootings and helps kids map a safe route home. Another student helped a local nonprofit test water in the area for lead and other chemicals.

Chris hopes that if his students are constantly exposed to tough societal problems and taught how to critically assess their root causes, addressing those problems will become second nature. “We’re starting to see that our students are really getting it,” adding that he “firmly believe[s] that a great school can turn a community around.” Chris hopes that students will take the learning and inspiration they’ve gotten from Butler with them to college, and then come back to Pullman to create change.

Chris is a member of the Advisory Committee for The Chicago Principal Partnership, a citywide collaborative effort to share information and tools with the goal of retaining great principals.