The Many Roles of APs: Curie High School

Assistant principals (APs) have multifaceted roles in Chicago’s public schools. They serve as instructional leaders, operational managers, student advocates, and important contact points for the community, among others. In this series, “The Many Roles of APs,” we present the work and experiences of APs around Chicago to better understand how they contribute to their school communities.


The five APs of Curie High School provide a perfect example of the broad range of work that their position requires. Each one brings unique strengths and approaches that make a significant impact on every aspect of Curie’s school community. From veteran leaders like Starlet Banks to new APs like Vanessa Ruiz, their dedication to Curie’s students is clear. 

Starlet Banks has worked in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for 21 years, seven of which she’s spent at Curie. She is a champion for inclusivity and culturally-affirming classrooms. Starlet leads initiatives that amplify student voices, particularly among Black students. “I recognized how our African American students are minorities in this community and have thought through ways that they can be seen and heard and [that] allow them to feel like they’re more than just a number in this school community,” she says. She routinely asks herself, “How do I create some support systems and structures for all students so that they can be successful academically?” As an AP, Starlet has created such systems to ensure not just the academic but also the personal success of all students at Curie.

Jasmine Vasquez-Dorner has served Curie for 16 years, focusing on enhancing the International Baccalaureate program and promoting bilingual education. Her dedication has increased students’ access to rigorous academic opportunities, especially for those who are English Learners. Jasmine shared that over the past two years, she has been working on increasing opportunities for more students to join the International Baccalaureate program. She is excited about the work she has been a part of with coordinators, department chairs, and the administration team — specifically with Starlet and Alexander Kmicikewycz, a fellow Curie AP — regarding early college credits. Jasmine is thrilled to create more opportunities for students to take these classes and earn college credit in high school.

 Katie Shanovich is in her fourth year at Curie, having started her school leadership journey through the Chicago Leadership Collaborative program. Before joining the administration team at Curie, she spent 16 years serving the diverse learner population as a special education teacher and case manager in Chicago; Austin, Texas; and Washington, D.C. Curie has given her the experience of leading in a large high school. During her time there, her focus has been leveraging the instructional leadership team to build the capacity of department chairs and course team leaders. Katie sees coaching and supporting teacher leaders as one of the most rewarding, impactful aspects of the assistant principal role.

Alexander Kmicikewycz, another Chicago Leadership Collaborative alum, focuses on Career and Technical Education (CTE) and work-based learning. He has worked with teachers to significantly expand these programs, giving students opportunities to explore career paths through real-world experiences and partnerships with the community, which demonstrates his role as a community connector. “Work-based learning was viewed as just an experience outside of school when I first joined Curie,” Alexander says of this project. “And now, work-based learning is an integral part of instruction and the classroom experience — more students are aware of the opportunity and its benefits.”  

Vanessa Ruiz started her career as a student teacher at Curie. She went on to teach high school English for four years while also teaching at Malcolm X College. Having come full circle, she is now the newest member of Curie’s administration team. “What really brought me to Curie was just the vision of supporting all marginalized students,” she says. Vanessa also emphasizes the importance of building trust through relationships. She currently works with Curie’s Parent Advisory Council and has been able to connect families to the school community, giving them a sense of belonging and a voice. She and the Curie team are committed to continuing “to build those relationships so that the entire community and our entire team continue to build trust.”

The collective power of Curie’s AP team is undeniable. They cultivate a vibrant, inclusive, dynamic, and rigorous learning environment for all their students. As Principal Homero Peñuelas puts it, “Assistant principals are the cornerstone of educational leadership. They provide support and guidance for both students and staff while being dynamic partners to the principal, lending a helping hand when needed and complementing their leadership to ensure the success of the school.”

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