A student from Carl Schurz High School briefly touched the news cycle in June 2022. Simone Peña was the first graduate from Schurz’s dual-language program. A mere four years after coming to America from Mexico, and knowing only very basic English at that time, Peña is now at Harvard University on a full-ride scholarship, where she is studying political science.
“At [Schurz], they accept all types of students,” Peña told Univision, a Spanish-language television network reporting on her achievements. “In Illinois, opportunities like [scholarships and assistance programs] can be given to any student.”
“I’m just really proud of [her],” Principal Heidy Moran told The Fund about Peña’s success. Principal Moran recently entered her principalship in August 2022 after four years as an assistant principal (AP). The first bilingual Latina principal at Schurz, and heading the first dual-language program at a high-school level, Principal Moran is proud to share a personal connection to the predominantly Latino/a/x and emerging bilingual student population of Schurz.
The first time Moran stepped foot in a K-12 school, she was an undocumented immigrant learning English as a second language. Like her recent graduate Peña, Moran had similar obstacles in her life and in her schooling after leaving her home country of Honduras at a very young age. Decades later, after the mentorship of many passionate educators and inspiring figures, Moran began a career in education.
“It came full circle when I ended up working in Cambodia,” Moran said. There, she spent time in a school whose mission was to prepare students to attend college abroad in order to come back and contribute to their country. “So I was working with an entire school population of ESL (English as a second language) students. It really tested me.”
When Moran returned to the United States, she worked for several schools in Philadelphia. Then, in 2015, she followed her heart back to Chicago, becoming a bilingual instructor to help other non-native English speakers. She served under Principal Raquel Saucedo at Chase Elementary, whose mentorship accelerated her development as an educator and leader — and then she set her eyes on Schurz. With its brick exterior and floor-to-ceiling windows, the Schurz campus was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1979 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.
Moran draws parallels between her life and that of the high school’s namesake, Carl Schurz, an immigrant who fled to America after participating in a failed revolution for democracy in Germany. He was an avid abolitionist and quickly involved himself in politics, becoming the first German-born American to be elected to the U.S. Senate. His story — an immigrant persevering to achieve success in America, paving the way for other immigrants, and using his influence to help the poor and the oppressed — drives and inspires Moran to this day.
As an AP, Moran was nominated by her mentor and then-Schurz Principal, Anthony Rodriguez, to participate in The Fund’s Leadership Bridge program, which supports the development and career growth of APs so that they are equipped to assume principalship as quickly as possible. The program contributes to The Fund’s Chicago Leads goal of diversifying and strengthening the principal leadership pipeline for Chicago Public Schools.
“Leadership Bridge provided me with invaluable resources and experienced leadership mentors to prepare for a smooth and strong transition from AP to principal,” Moran said of the program.
She has accomplished much in her first year of leading Schurz High School, too, especially in the program that helped Simone Peña as a newcomer student in the United States. It now offers even more options to students in similar situations.
“Our dual-language program has expanded to integrate students into one of our five CTE [Career and Technical Education] academies,” Principal Moran said. “One third of our dual-language cohort is on track to earn early college and career credentials in business and entrepreneurship, digital media, health science, pre-engineering, and automotive programs.”