Interview with Elizabeth Shaw, CEO, at Chicago International Charter School
Tell us about Chicago International Charter School. Chicago International Charter School (CICS) is a network of 14 charter schools serving 8,600 kids across 56 zip codes in Chicago. Our students are diverse, 66% African American, 25% Hispanic, 4% Caucasian, 2% Asian/Pacific Islander, with 86% coming from low income households. Our network is a portfolio; we partner with diverse and talented education entrepreneurs who design academic models and schools as diverse as our student populations and neighborhoods. We focus on three priorities as an organization: excellence, innovation, equity. For twenty years we have been providing Chicago families with diverse and high quality school options.
Part of our work leading a portfolio network of 14 schools is to incubate school models, to support new charter school operators, and design breakthrough innovations to help students to learn and grow. Ultimately we want our students to thrive every day on a path to success both in college and in life—and we’re becoming a hub of innovation, equity, and excellence in Chicago education.
What motivated you to join CICS as CEO in 2016? I'm a Chicago native and went through the Chicago Public Schools. I've spent my career working to improve outcomes in a variety of school systems across the country. I was getting ready to move my family back home to Chicago when the CICS opportunity came along. It's my hope that our schools not only dramatically improve outcomes for our students, but also make a real change in Chicago's education system – a system I grew up in and my children attend – through innovation and choice.
Talk a little bit about the different educational models you use at some of your schools. We have four unique operators managing our schools. One is a personalized learning model, where education is more self-directed by the students and that employs things like 1:1 devices and flipped classrooms. These schools are rethinking the learning space and student time. A second model is our ReGeneration school model, which focuses on high academic and behavioral standards with a more managed curriculum designed to serve low-income students. Our Civitas Schools have more of a civic or social justice focus that provide opportunities to break the cycle of poverty.
What successes have you seen in the organization? CICS is 20 years old this year and has had 20 years of strong performance. Every single one of our schools outperforms its neighborhood schools. One of our high schools is a Chicago top ten non-selective enrollment high school. We've incubated a variety of new ideas and strategies to come up with various school models. And we've maintained a healthy financial model during some incredibly challenging times in Chicago. There are very good things happening.
What have been the challenges? I see tons of untapped opportunity. Our educators are incredibly dedicated, committed, passionate, experienced, and talented. They're already innovating in many ways. When I think about what's ahead, I see a ton of latent potential. Though we've had a lot of success in the past, we aren't achieving excellence every day for every child. That's why we're entering a period of transformation now in our strategic planning. This change won't necessarily be easy, but it's also a really exciting moment for our future.
What else should we know about CICS? We're enrolling students now, but we're also hiring! As we enter this phase of transformation and building our portfolio of the best possible educational options for kids in Chicago, we're rebuilding our professional teams as well. We're looking for passionate, dedicated educators and leaders. Come join our team!