Strong school communities start with trust and support

Strong school communities are built with trust and support. Studies indicate that a school’s climate and culture tie directly to student achievement. Additionally, research shows that a school’s culture and climate are greatly influenced by its leadership. My principal, Mr. Gregory Mason at Murray Language Academy, is a prime example of how principals can set up a school community for success by building relationships with and trust from everyone in the community. 

Mr. Mason has been the principal of the school where I work as a paraprofessional for the past 12 years. In that time, he has encouraged my colleagues and me to lean into leadership and decision-making roles. For example, I have had the opportunity to sit on a number of our school’s committees, including our climate and culture committee, fundraising committee, and events committee. He recognizes our unique skill sets and steps back from influencing our direction, allowing us to make decisions as a committee. By doing this, he is showing that he trusts his staff. The same goes for professional development. Mr. Mason has pushed me to lead trainings on teacher-paraprofessional collaboration, because he knows my experiences can help our school build better bonds with each other.

But a school’s community spans beyond the people on the inside; parents and the greater neighborhood community are a part of our school family as well. At Murray Language Academy, Mr. Mason welcomes parents both formally – like school events and the PTO – and informally through his open-door policy. He recognizes just how critical parental involvement is in a student’s life and finds opportunities to make all of us feel welcomed and included. 

Additionally, our students get to see how communities can help a neighborhood school by leveraging local partners. Taking part in community partnerships provides students with experiences they may not otherwise receive outside of school. Over the years, Mr. Mason has built relationships with neighborhood groups and services by finding ways to collaborate with them. Through our partnership with the University of Chicago, university students provided Murray Language Academy with after-school programming aimed toward expanding the world of science to students. It’s an opportunity for students to build a larger sense of community beyond their classrooms, and it’s one of the many reasons why our school and our students continue to be successful.  

Marilyn Williams has been a paraprofessional with Chicago Public Schools for 29 years and is a member of Educators for Excellence-Chicago. She has been at Murray Language Academy in Hyde Park for 19 years.