Fearful Symmetries

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01 November, 2013

Meet Nancy Hanks

Earlier this month The Cap Times profiled the new Madison Schools Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham who left the Chicago Public Schools. In her new position, Cheatham surrounded herself with a contingent of other former Chicagoans, among them was Nancy Hanks.



The article doesn't say much about her but yesterday the Chicago Reader posted an article giving us a glimpse at Madison's new deputy assistant superintendent for elementary schools. Considering the changing complexion of Madison's schools and the racial tensions that came to surface because of the aborted Madison Preparatory Academy, Ms. Hanks seems like an inspired choice.

In June I wrote about Melody elementary, one of Chicago's countless hypersegregated public schools. The enrollment at Melody, in West Garfield Park, is 98 percent black and 99 percent low-income. The school was on probation because of its test scores, which have been dismal for years. Melody was being consolidated with Delano, another poor, African-American school with dismal test scores.

But Melody had something going for it: a young, energetic, highly regarded principal—Nancy Hanks. She'd gotten a master's at Harvard in 2009, in a training program designed specifically to produce principals for CPS, and she'd been at Melody for three years, during which time she'd worked hard to set a new tone at the school.

In August, Hanks, 31, let administrators know she was leaving for Madison, where she'd been offered a district-level job as deputy assistant superintendent for elementary schools.

Hanks grew up on the west side and attended public schools—Lewis elementary, Thorp Scholastic Academy, and Whitney Young Magnet High School. "I was born and raised here, so I knew what I was signing up for," she told me in May, in her small office at Melody.

She talked about the extra tasks for schools in poor neighborhoods. She arranged for visits to Melody by a dentist, and trips for students to a vision clinic. Academically, there was "catch-up work" that had to be done, because children reached school age having been read to and conversed with less than kids from affluent homes. She lamented increases in class size during her three years at Melody because of budget cuts. The job was more difficult for teachers and administrators at schools like Melody, she said, but she enjoyed the challenge. "If that doesn’t motivate you, or if it's a chore for you, then this isn’t the place or the community for you to be in."

She felt that her own background—coming from the west side, and becoming a principal at such an early age—made her an inspiration for Melody children. "They say, 'Oh my God, you grew up where? You went to school where?' They think, 'I do know a person from this community that was able to make it.'"

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|| Palmer, 10:29 AM

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