Embracing Diversity: Pioneering Change at CICS Wrightwood and Beyond

Written by Chicago International Charter School
19 March 2024
Posted in Partner Spotlight

Step into a world where diversity isn't just a statistic but a lived reality, where inclusion isn't just a buzzword but a guiding principle. Within the vibrant tapestry of the CICS charter network, 94% of our students are young people of color, with 63% identifying as Black. These numbers aren't just figures on a page; they're a testament to our commitment to reflect and empower the communities we serve.

Dr. Lewis, a beacon of change within our network and the visionary principal at CICS Wrightwood, has recently received his Ph.D. for his groundbreaking dissertation, "Understanding Preparation Programs For Black Male School Leaders and Their Effectiveness." This pursuit isn't just a scholarly accolade; it has provided a roadmap to empowerment. Undertaking this exploration has been a profound journey for Dr. Lewis, driven by personal conviction and a deep commitment to fostering positive change within our educational systems. With a tenure at CICS Wrightwood spanning from 2013 to his recent return, Dr. Lewis is not only breaking barriers but also reshaping the education landscape.

"The genesis of this work emanated from a convergence of factors that compelled me to delve into the realm of male school leaders of color and their experiences," shares Dr. Lewis. "The lamentable underrepresentation of these leaders within our educational leadership landscape and the glaring inequities in our schools spurred my determination to comprehend the dynamics at play."

Dr. Lewis’s research has led him to uncover many truths about adequate classroom representation, especially from Black male educators.The presence of Black and Brown educators in the U.S. public school system is crucial for student success. Research from Johns Hopkins University and American University reveals that Black students who have at least one Black teacher by the 3rd grade are 13% more likely to enroll in college. Additionally, Black men are 39% less likely to drop out of high school if they had at least one Black teacher in elementary school. However, despite these benefits, Black and Brown educators are sorely underrepresented in today's public school system. Positive representation and inclusivity bolster the learning environment, fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment. Conversely, the absence or negative portrayal of African American males may fuel feelings of isolation and stereotype threat, impeding academic progress. For these very reasons, Dr. Lewis is on a mission to make meaningful transformations in the context of educational leadership for Black males and illuminate the intricacies of authentic leadership so that cultural competence is prioritized in educational settings. One might wonder, though: how does that happen? 

The pivotal insights from his research underscore the imperative to elevate the significance of higher education within communities of color, particularly through targeted mentorship and training initiatives. These programs serve as vital bridges, propelling us from current "As-Is" conditions towards more empowered and effective "To-Be" scenarios. By implementing comprehensive training and mentorship schemes, we can cultivate coursework that specifically targets urban education challenges and enhances cultural competence. Moreover, addressing resource constraints is paramount, necessitating advocacy for equitable funding and resource allocation for schools helmed by Black male administrators.

A Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion at Civitas Education Partners & CICS

At CICS, we understand the importance of having teachers, leaders, and staff who reflect the diversity of our students. That's why we're proud to share that 59% of our school principals across the network identify as Black, aligning with our student population. Allison Sussna, Chief Schools Officer for CICS, shares that “While representation alone cannot address these systemic challenges, research clearly shows us that diversity in instructional leadership and teaching roles correlates with improved student outcomes for students of color.”

At CICS Wrightwood, this commitment is even more pronounced, with an astounding 98% of staff identifying as Black, mirroring the demographics of our student community. This commitment isn't just about hiring practices; it's about creating an inclusive environment where every student feels seen, heard, and valued while empowering Black male educators to lead their educational communities.  

Building upon the momentum generated by Dr. Lewis's pioneering work, Civitas Education Partners, a proud member of the CICS portfolio, stands firmly behind his efforts and the transformative impact they are engendering within the narrative of Black men spearheading educational advancement. Dr. Joanne Tanner, CEO of Civitas Education Partners, attests to the profound influence of leadership that mirrors the communities it serves. "I've had the privilege of witnessing the power of community-driven leadership firsthand, particularly at events like 'Tied to Greatness' held at Wrightwood," shares Dr. Tanner. "It was truly remarkable to see such a gathering of men committed to their community's empowerment. Dr. Lewis's presence underscores why representation matters." 

Dr. Lewis's approach underscores the significance of intentional engagement with all members of the community. He acknowledges the nuanced dynamics of his interactions with both mothers and fathers, yet emphasizes his deliberate efforts to cultivate connections with fathers, recognizing their pivotal role in reflecting community demographics. Dr. Tanner further emphasizes the importance of diversity in leadership, stating, "Dr. Lewis embodies the ethos of inclusive leadership, understanding the imperative of diversity to authentically mirror the demographics of our schools. His dedication serves as a beacon, illuminating the path towards a more equitable and inclusive educational landscape."

Expanding upon the theme of collaboration and the significance of diversity, Civitas' partnership with CICS serves as a beacon illuminating the path toward inclusive excellence. This partnership not only underscores the importance of diversity within our educational networks but also underscores the critical need for collaborative efforts to bring the vision of representation to life for the families and students we serve.

 In the spirit of effective collaboration, CICS's new board member and CICS Wrightwood alumna, Crystal Stonewall, Esq., offer a testament to the transformative impact of Dr. Lewis's leadership. Having been a student under Dr. Lewis's guidance at CICS Wrightwood, Attorney Stonewall now stands at the forefront of change within our CICS network. Reflecting on her experience, Attorney Stonewall not only praises Dr. Lewis's leadership style but also champions the ongoing collaboration between Civitas and CICS to embrace and champion diversity.

 "As a student at CICS Wrightwood, we all felt that we were part of something meaningful under Dr. Lewis's leadership," shares Attorney Stonewall. "His intentional efforts to ensure adequate representation in leadership for our school community left a lasting impact on us. Our partnership with SMOs (School Management Organizations) will play a pivotal role in making schools more diverse and inclusive. Ultimately, this inclusivity translates into environments where students feel valued, heard, and seen, enhancing their learning experiences." 

 Through strategic partnerships and collective efforts, Civitas and CICS are reshaping the educational landscape, fostering environments where diversity thrives, and every student has the opportunity to excel.

 Championing Diversity, Inspiring Change

The partnership between CICS and Civitas Education Partners not only underscores the transformative power of collaboration and diversity but also exemplifies the profound impact of strategic partnerships with school management organizations (SMOs). Dr. Lewis's steadfast commitment to fostering inclusion and creating opportunities for Black male educators serves as a beacon of hope, igniting change not only within our network but also reverberating across the broader educational landscape. In conjunction with the influential contributions of other Black male principals like Marcell Kirk at CICS Lloyd Bond, managed by Distinctive Schools, our collaborative efforts highlight the significance of representation and community empowerment.

 The example set by CICS Wrightwood and CICS Lloyd Bond is a compelling testament to the value of our partnerships in creating enriching experiences through collaboration. Together, our partnership with SMOs enables us to leverage diverse expertise and resources, thereby amplifying our collective impact on student success and community engagement. Through strategic collaboration, we continue to champion diversity, inspire change, and foster environments where every student thrives.

As Valencia Bush, Assistant Principal at CICS Wrightwood, aptly puts it, "Students see college-educated men and women that look like them. They also see educators who went above and beyond to obtain their terminal degree. One of the most glaring illustrations is Dr. David A. Lewis."

In Dr. Lewis's vision, we find a promise of a future where every student feels valued, heard, and empowered to achieve their fullest potential. It is a vision that transcends boundaries and inspires us to continue championing diversity and embracing change. Together, we are forging ahead with determination, guided by the belief that we can create a brighter tomorrow for generations to come through unity and inclusivity.

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CICS extends our heartfelt gratitude to all who have contributed to this important dialogue on diversity, equity, and inclusion in education. Your dedication and insights are invaluable as we continue to strive for a brighter, more inclusive future for every student. Thank you for your unwavering commitment to this critical cause.

 CICS proudly partners with Civitas Education Partners, Distinctive Schools, and ReGeneration Schools to operate 13 tuition-free public charter schools across Chicago.

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