Building Trust and Teacher Development
My school isn’t your typical CPS high school. Southside Occupational Academy serves students with disabilities between the ages of 18-21 with the mission of teaching them life skills and providing job training. We provide students with hands-on vocational experiences that fit their interests and passions so that they may become more independent. A school as unique as mine requires equally unique leadership – both from administrators and educators. That’s where principal Joshua Long comes in.
Principal Long has led Southside Occupational Academy for the past eight years. During this time, he has worked to both improve student educational experiences and push all staff to learn and grow in their professional development. For example, Principal Long has helped expand our agriculture and animal science classes by incorporating an orchard, outdoor gardens, beehives, and even ducks and chickens into our program so that our students have a larger variety of work experiences. This, in turn, has helped our staff expand our own development.
Since Principal Long knows my ability to teach and my desire to push myself, he has trusted me to teach several classes throughout my tenure at Southside Occupational Academy. I have taught classes ranging from more traditional subjects, such as language arts and math skills, to life skills like hygiene and even sign language. But after teaching at Southside Community Academy for nearly 20 years, I wanted to try a new venture with my students. Thanks to the encouraging nature of Principal Long, I wanted to try leading a work program for students called the Career and Community Connections – C3. This would allow a group of students to travel daily to Mount Sinai Hospital and build real-world work experience and training, with the potential for students to eventually be hired.
I sat down with Principal Long and laid out my vision. He knew my desire to actively work toward helping my students become gainfully employed and allowed me the ability to move forward. Leading C3 has broadened my opportunity to teach, required collaboration with workforce options for students, and provided me with more autonomy. In turn, I have watched my students in this program improve their confidence and become independent young adults – some of whom have gone onto become employees of Mount Sinai Hospital.
Principal Long’s innovation and belief in teacher leadership have afforded us the opportunity to become one of the few schools in the city to become our own network, independent of other schools. We continue to explore and learn together – as a community for our students.
Angela Young is a Cooperative Work Training teacher at Southside Occupational Academy and an E4E-Chicago member.