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Producing Life-Long Learners in North Lawndale

Located on the West Side of Chicago, Herzl School of Excellence is an exemplary Teach For America partner school. Learn how corps members are working alongside their colleagues to help Herzl’s students become community leaders.

A female Teach For America corps members works with her students on math problems in a school hallway.

February 13, 2019

When you walk into Herzl, a neighborhood school located in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, you immediately sense it’s a special place. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived in this community during his campaign for fair housing under the Chicago Freedom Movement,” shares corps member Sharila Stewart (Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana, ’17), a pre-k teacher. “The fight for equity remains present in North Lawndale today, and is thus part of Herzl's own culture.” Students bring visitors up to the school office, small learning groups work through math problems in the hallways, and when you peek into classrooms, you see students deeply engaged in discussions.

Principal Tamara Davis has been at Herzl for over seven years.

Herzl serves nearly 600 students from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. It opened its doors in 1912, and is notable for having the largest full-day preschool program in Chicago Public Schools. Herzl is part of the AUSL network, which means they are laser-focused on transforming educational outcomes for their students. “Our school culture and community is one that thrives on high expectations,” said Principal Tamara Davis, who has led the school for over seven years. Their attendance has been rising consecutively over the last four years, and according to the My School, My Voice Survey, Herzl is Well-Organized for school improvement, the highest possible rating. “Our school community is grounded in reflection. As a staff we are constantly discussing ways to improve our practices, learn, and grow,” said corps member Tess Levin (Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana, ’17), a seventh grade teacher.

Currently five Teach For America corps members work at Herzl across grades and disciplines. “It has been an amazing experience having other corps members who also work at Herzl. I have been able to ask them questions and learn from their experiences,” said corps member Caroline Rectenwal (Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana, ’18), a special education teacher. Teach For America has placed corps members at the school since 2000, a partnership of which Principal Davis is proud. Our partnership yields lifelong experiences, inspiration, and results, and that's something that we take very seriously,” she said.

Corps members also deeply value the relationships they have with their non-TFA colleagues. “The principal and assistant principal as well as my instructional coach come into my classroom to observe my teaching and then quickly offer feedback about specific areas of strength and areas in which to grow,” saidTess. “I love how positive, reflective, and strategy-based these supports are.” Sharila agrees that this is central to Herzl’s strong culture, sharing, “I have realized that teaching is not only about teaching, but also effectively teaching in the context in which you find yourself. For this reason, I have worked to support the newer teachers this year in an effort to pay forward some of what I have been given.”

Two students in corps member Sharila Stewart's classroom.

It’s not just their fellow staff members that make Herzl a special school community, it’s the students as well.  “The students are so funny, energetic, reflective, and resilient,” said Tess. But these students and their families face very real challenges – North Lawndale has an unemployment rate of almost triple Chicago’s average, and nearly 97 percent of Herzl’s students come from low-income households. Still, Herzl’s teachers are committed to giving them access to the same opportunities available to their peers. “There are many obstacles present in the neighborhood and in our students' lives, but we work to remind them of their potential for triumph,” Sharila said. “As my principal says often, education can change the status of a family. We are working to change the trajectory of an entire community.”