For Principal Jeffery Dase of Edward Coles Model for Excellence Language Academy, seven pounds made the difference between a career in education and the military.
“I didn’t want my parents to have to pay for college, so I was going to join the Army. I was seven pounds underweight and [the recruiters] said come back in a week,” he said. “Within a week I received a letter about the full scholarship to Chicago State for teaching. So I entered the program at Chicago State and started to love the classes and what the education was about: helping kids.”
Today, Jeffery has focused on leveraging neighborhood involvement to build an empowering environment for his students at Coles, drawing from his own experience as a CPS student to guide his work.
Coles itself is located in the South Chicago neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago and maintains an enrollment of about 450 students in grades K-8. Jeffery has been principal at the school for 9 years now after working his way through the CPS system to grow from student to administrator.
“Growing up in Chicago gives you a different lens … [and] being familiar with the dynamic of a neighborhood school is important,” he said. “To give you an example: a lot of the kids don’t want to go home. We’ll stay out there and talk to the kids, because for a lot of them, we know school is their second home, and that’s their time to release.”
In addition to familiarity with the city of Chicago and CPS, Jeffery credits his involvement in the Chicago Principals Fellowship, an initiative supported by The Fund and The Crown Family, as an alternate source of guidance and development.
“Going through [The Fellowship] shows that the district values our input and advice. We don’t get the immediate reward all the time, so for The Fund and CPS to invest in us, it helps out,” he said. “Even my staff has recognized my growth. I’m definitely a better principal than in in previous years.”
Ultimately, Jeffery’s commitment to the city of Chicago shines through in his work as a principal, and he believes community involvement, such as partnerships with the block clubs, local churches, and mentoring programs, to be a key lever in principal success.
“We’re [El-Roy Estes, Assistant Principal] really in the neighborhood, [and] we’re very visible in the community,” he said. “You’d be surprised the impact of the principals being there. People invite us to church on Sunday and I attend church services. I’ve gone to funerals, birthday celebrations, and block club parties” he said. “Even though we’re principals, we are part of the community.”