New principal takes helm at Steinmetz College Prep High School
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Former Steinmetz College Prep High School assistant principal Dr. Anna Vilchez made her way back to 3030 N. Mobile Ave. after stints at Disney Magnet School and Linne School to take over as the new principal.
The Steinmetz Local School Council voted to award Vilchez a principal contract in May over candidate Brad Gill. She replaces former principal Jaimie Jaramillo, who went on to become a grade level principal at Proviso West High School.
Vilchez recently discussed her background, her plan for leading the school and the struggles students deal with in a post-pandemic Chicago Public Schools.
“I’m a proud product of CPS,” Vilchez said. “I went to both elementary and high school in CPS. I’m a first generation Latina in my family graduating college. People ask “Why Steinmetz?” and a lot of my experience and my story relates to a lot of students there, having to navigate first generation impostor syndrome.” The syndrome is a persistent self-doubt and fear of exposure as a fraud that causes many first-generation students to doubt their own abilities, according to the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.
She has lived in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood for the past 12 years, graduated from Von Steuben High School, received her associate degree from Wright College, a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University and her master’s from Concordia University.
“My first job was in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood that serves 1,300 students (Locke School) so right off the bat I was straight into middle school math,” Vilchez said. She taught mathematics for 10 years at Locke from 2004, and then onto Network 4 where she learned to navigate the “world of CPS,” and internships both at Locke and Steinmetz.
Having officially started at the helm of Steinmetz on July 1, Vilchez said that she is going on a “listening tour” as she is acclimating to her new leadership role.
“I think first I’m going to get to know everyone so a big part is building relationships, scheduling one-on-ones to hear from each staff member, what’s working and what’s not working, what supports do they need moving into school year 2023,” Vilchez said. “Listening to our culture and climate will be a big part of it. Learning about the instructional core, the supports that are going to be in place for Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 schools and how to build adult capacity because I can’t do that alone.”
Vilchez said that her experience at Steinmetz as assistant principal from 2018 to 2020 gave her a lot of practice working at the high school level. Especially, she said, she worked in the International Baccalaureate program and that’s where she cut her teeth.”IB all the way,” she said.
According to the CPS Web site, the most recent enrollment figure available for Steinmetz is 1,106 students, but it is unclear if that number is from the pre-pandemic or from the last school year. The latest demographics show that the school is 74.1 percent Hispanic, 17.5 percent African-American, 5.1 percent White, 2 percent Asian, and 1.4 percent “other,” according to CPS. Other statistics say that 84.4 percent of the students are low income, 19.9 percent of students are diverse learners, 27.8 percent of students speak limited English, and 57.7 percent of students are chronically truant. About 79.5 percent of students graduate, according to CPS.
During the 2018-19 school year, the school had 1,227 students, according to the Illinois School Report Card. CPS officials said that updated figures for the school would be available after July11.
Vilchez said that she would focus on academics because “when you look at the PSAT/SAT data on the Illinois School Report Card there was a big dip in terms of performance in both reading and math. So a lot of work is needed around instruction and curriculum and helping our students putting the scaffolds to utilize supports in reading and math.”
Vilchez said that from her experience at other schools during the pandemic she can see the effect it has had on the students, especially younger ones in middle schools. “You are seeing that you have to show the students a lot of routines again. I was at a middle school (Linne) so you’re going over classroom norms, going over expectations, how to actually interact with one another,” she said.
For Steinmetz she plans to develop a plan that’s rooted in restorative practices that are trauma informed because Steinmetz is experiencing what a lot of other schools are experiencing in bringing back up to speed after the pandemic, she said.
“So understanding there is still a lot of social emotion learning work that needs to happen to help students reintegrate successfully back into school,” Vilchez said.
Steinmetz has kept their school resource officers following a vote by the LSC in June and Vilchez said that she would listen to community members and stakeholders about future decisions, but when she was there the officers did not pose problems.
“I remember when I was there they didn’t hurt the community and the kids liked them a lot. Students really like them when I was there and they were really good with the students. They used de-escalation strategies and they used restorative conversations so it is the approach that the SROs have with the students that help the situation or make the situation worse,” Vilchez said.
In terms of discipline, Vilchez said that teachers need to be firm and follow district rules, but also “having a conversation about what is going on, and really taking the time to listen to the student side.”
“We are using restorative practices to communicate with students that everyone is on the same page about what we need to do to move forward and what is allowable and what’s not allowable. We’re a making sure that we are very clear about what the CPS student code of conduct says in terms of progressive discipline and restorative practices and making sure that the students understand their rights and responsibilities,” Vilchez said.
Vilchez said that what is rewarding to her is hearing students getting excited about their passions and what they want to do when they graduate.
“You hear students want to be doctors or go into the medical field, or teachers, there is a lot more who want to go into the trades, in terms of fixing stuff or construction or electrical, mechanics or some type of car field. Photography and digital media is a big one, making stuff on the computer or being a professional gamer, or coding. There is a lot of interest in technology and in the arts,” she said.
“So being able to lead that work in my neighborhood and to serve students who may be navigating different generational challenges and immigrant language barriers and being able to support that really resonates with me why I became a leader in CPS.”