Day in the Life: Principal Michelle Willis

Note from The Fund team: Today, we’re launching a new type of post. Our Day in the Life series will show you how some of the city’s top principals spend their days. Prepare to be amazed!


Principal Michelle Willis is a force to be reckoned with at Gillespie Elementary School. Eight years ago, she took over Gillespie, which was on probation and facing major administrative and academic issues. This year, CPS has designated Gillespie as a Level 1 school.

We decided to look further into the day in a life of this prominent educational leader. Nobody can say a principal’s day is easy. Be prepared; Principal Willis’ schedule is quite the whirlwind.


I sleep with my iPad and iPhone on my bedside. Both have my CPS e-mail attached. I’m checking email and texts before I’m even dressed. I have a quick response time, which helps me take advantage of opportunities.

Bright and Early

The school day starts at 8 a.m. I’m usually in the building 45 minutes before any of the children arrive. I walk the building and greet teachers at their doors. I’m usually not back in my office until 9 a.m.

Whirlwind Lunch

I have a whole Google Calendar list of things to do. I’m usually spending the middle of the day doing pop-in visits, helping to monitor lunch and recess. I don’t do any paperwork until the children leave at around 3:30 p.m. after some outdoor duty time.

Dedicated Hours

I spend 10 to 12 hours at my school every day. It’s a full day, especially when I have meetings. A lot of times, I spend these after hours trying to make sure I’m on top of everything. Honestly, I spend more time here than I do at home. Most nights, I leave alongside the janitors at around 7:30 p.m.

Weekend Shifts

I have a dedicated team of staff and teachers. Sometimes those teachers want to come in on the weekend to work or there might be a weekend sports event and the children need to be let into the school. I’m more than happy to spend time there on Saturday making sure those kids get to their sports events safely and that my teachers can access their classrooms if they want to work.

Spending 60-70 hours a week at school seems crazy to those of us who remember being on the edge of our seats, waiting for the bell to signal the end of our 40-hour school week; however, Principal Willis feels much differently: “Even when I was a teacher, it was never work. It was fun. I want to create well-rounded productive citizens, create and mold future leaders. This is my life work.”

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