From Refugee Camp to School Principal

“I was born in a refugee camp and I was raised to believe that education is the only way,” said Okab Hassan, Principal of Ferdinand Peck Elementary School. “If I can succeed to save a child by giving him a quality education, then I am satisfied.”

After growing up with strong influences toward education, Okab began his formal career as an ESL teacher in Kuwait, moving to Alabama later on to finish his degree in language arts and linguistics. In 1982, he became a CPS teacher and has been involved with public education in Chicago.  Since 2000, he has served as Principal at Peck School, a consistent and successful school on the southwest side of Chicago.  In spite of the 201% overcrowding and limited space, the instructional team at Peck has sustained the highest level of academic achievement for all his students.

Part of Okab’s journey in the field of education has been participation in the CPS Principal Fellowship in 2014-2015, a program sponsored by The Fund to provide a group of high-performing principals the chance to participate in a professional development program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Okab said that the program itself was rewarding because it served as a platform by which principals could offer practical solutions to issues within CPS. “The idea behind [The Fellows program] is great: to create the best practices in the city,” he said. “We are able to help come up with system-wide ideas and to help advise the central office.”

On top of the chance to have his voice heard, Okab said he appreciated the opportunity to study at Northwestern, which provided the Fellows with a novel perspective on what it means to operate a school efficiently. “Participants see how the business world works, how the businesses are being managed,” he said. “The school is a business and the parents and children are our clients. We are going to have impact by creating an environment that is conducive for productivity and results.”

Part of Okab’s takeaway from the program was a greater commitment to technology in the classroom, which he says is an invaluable skill for students today. “If you can give [students] skills to communicate and use technology, then they can use these skills to access everything.”

At Peck, this commitment takes the form of laptops available to all students, as well as workshops for parents to learn about technology alongside their children.

Okab’s commitment to providing the best education possible stems from a desire to be an outstanding leader. As a recipient of the Community School Leadership Award from the Federation for Community School and Kathy Osterman Award for Outstanding Supervisory for the City of Chicago, Okab strongly believes that “we are here to provide the best service for the people we are serving. If you want to be a leader you have to be a servant. You have to be a model, an example,” he said. “This is our way of working … it’s hard work, but this is the way it should be done.”