Elizabeth Jamison-Dunn likes good things to stay the same. Since Catalyst Circle Rock opened its doors 11 years ago, Elizabeth has served as a teacher and the Director of Instruction. In 2015, she stepped into the role as principal. Having worked in the same school since graduating from college, Elizabeth sees stability as being the key to the success of her school.
“I was born and raised here in Chicago,” Elizabeth says, proudly. She grew up on the South Side and attended Whitney Young for high school. “I think about how my trajectory could have been drastically different if I didn’t receive the education that I did. In my world, education equals freedom.” After attending Howard University in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth joined Teach For America and insisted on coming back to her hometown to teach — “Chicago was my only choice.” She started working at Circle Rock the year the campus opened and has been there ever since.
Elizabeth isn’t the only person who has stuck with Circle Rock. “My team keeps riding with me,” she says. Elizabeth credits high teacher retention to the relationships she’s built organically over the past 11 years. “People quit principals, not schools. Those relationships are created when it’s 6:30 p.m. and we’re both still working. I’m looking at you, and you’re looking at me, and someone says ‘let’s go get something to eat’ so we go grade papers at TGI Fridays. Those relationships are how you make people stay.” For the third year in a row, staff retention is over 90 percent.
Elizabeth’s experience is supported by research, too. According to a study done by The Consortium on Chicago School Research, 24 out of 25 teachers say the principal is the number one reason they stay in or leave a school. This greatly impacts students, and the overall culture of the school.
The proof? Students also stay at Circle Rock. Of 26 students in the school’s 2017 graduating class, 22 had been there since kindergarten. Elizabeth believes students benefit from teacher stability, and knows that teachers have helped make students successful. “When you’re able to keep the same team for a long period of time, that’s better than any curriculum you can find. Consistency of human beings and the relationships they develop with children, that’s what makes the school thrive.”
Even after more than a decade with Circle Rock, Elizabeth’s work isn’t done. She is focusing on keeping attendance high and improving her students’ district-wide test scores. She hopes to continue giving her students the freedom that her own high-quality education afforded to her.