Note from The Fund team: Guess what? We’re launching another new series today! We wanted to get to know more about the work great leaders do in our city, so we’re bringing you the first Q&A series with Principal Angela Sims. We hope you enjoy getting to know Angela as much as we did!
Many of us dreaded the age old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was a question filled with uncertainty. Often, even our tentative answers often proved inaccurate. For Principal Angela Sims of Lenart Elementary Regional Gifted Center, her path to school leadership was a very unconventional one.
The Fund: You have a nontraditional path to education. What did the journey to principalship look like?
Angela Sims (AS): I wasn’t someone who knew I wanted to go into education from the beginning. I wanted to be a dentist. My undergraduate degree is in biology and biochemistry. I went to dental school for two years and didn’t like it. I was pretty sick from doing something I didn’t like. In this interim time, I did medical research in the evenings and had my days free. A family friend was a principal and asked me if I wanted to be a substitute teacher and I had no interest. Yet, I started substitute teaching and loved it. I went back to school. I started teaching middle school science and reading for most of my career. I was placed into leadership positions or opportunities for growth and lead others. I was pushed into that by a former principal, and now I’m here!
The Fund: Can you tell us more about Lenart Regional Gifted Center?
AS: Our students are from all over the city of Chicago. We draw from the entire city, every single border, from Norwood Park to Edgewood. People think it’s a misnomer that these are just smart kids, but there are great needs for other types of experience for these students. There is a heightened mental capacity, but that means they are hyper sensitive and have either hyper sensory challenges or a deficiency in sensory skills. We have a very heavy focus of socio emotional needs of a students in a unique way. Being very gifted intellectually means finding ways to constantly challenge them and force them to think outside the box.
The Fund: You are a participant in The Fund’s Summer Design Program (SDP), which helps educators create and implement innovations that transform student learning in their classrooms or schools . Can you tell us more about the experience?
AS: We saw an opportunity to get this support and find a nice space to problem solve around an issue that we have been working towards. We are working on personalized learning for the gifted population. It’s capturing student interests and making the work relevant for the student.
The Fund: What about SDP stands out from other problem-solving activities you have done?
AS: It’s unique because we wouldn’t have spent this much time problem solving and trying to get to the root cause of what is going on. SDP has pushed us to think from different vantage points and different stakeholders. We probably wouldn’t have done this on our own. Had we not participated, we wouldn’t have spent as much time problem solving. We’d probably be less thoughtful and jump to potential solutions. It has been helpful of going through this process with the support of a coach as well as schools with similar work. It’s nice to work with thought partners and see schools who have had success with implementing their projects.
The Fund: Where are you now with the innovation?
AS: We are currently in the empathy stage of trying to see these problems from the perspectives of the students. We are confirming that our students are very compliant and will do what is asked without pushback or challenge, but a couple of them are bored and not challenged. We have been discussing our approach to instruction and moving towards a problem-based format with teachers being more facilitative. We are changing the way we look at the role of teachers as not just a giver, but a facilitator to help students learn on their own. We want to help students engage in meaningful tasks and connect their work to something that is current and relevant to see the connection of what they are learning.
The Fund: What motivates you on a daily basis?
AS: My students motivate me. I am a teacher at heart. I love talking about instruction. I sometimes walk into classrooms and forget that I am not the teacher. I didn’t really like school growing up. Despite doing well, I wasn’t challenged a lot. I want to make my students’ experiences relevant and exciting. We don’t realize the impact we have as children on educators. I want to make sure they have options and are exposed to as much as possible so they can make decisions that are meaningful to them. I went on a long path to figure out what I did well. I want to push students earlier on. The kids’ excitement for learning brings me back. They are amazing.
The Fund: Awesome! Thank you so much for your time and energy!
AS: No problem! Thank you!