Chicago Education's Rising Stars

Akeshia CravenCheck out this profile of Akeshia Craven, a former engineer who is now one of Chicago's new chief area officers. 

It's either inspiring or depressing depending whether Craven is any good at her job. 

I don't know much about what Craven did before she got the CAO gig, other than participating in the Broad Residency program.  Anyone have any first hand experience working with her?  I am guessing it was something related to the High School Transformation effort. 

Here's the list of the new CAOs.  Craven is heading Area 19, a position that comes with a big raise.

The profile is below. 

From Engineering to Education Reform
Broad Residency Graduate to Lead 12 Chicago High Schools

Akeshia Craven

Mechanical
engineers design complex systems from spacecrafts to medical devices;
most people don't expect them to tackle education reform. But one Broad
Residency alumna is putting those skills to work to improve high
schools in the third-largest school district in the nation.

After graduating from North Carolina State University's mechanical engineering program, Akeshia Craven
had to give up her dream of becoming an astronaut due to a medical
condition which disqualified her from pursuing flight school in the Air
Force. She spent the following years working for an engineering
company, earning her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at
Northwestern University and working for a consulting firm.

Craven Joins Chicago Public Schools and The Broad Residency
But
now Akeshia is applying her engineering and private sector training at
Chicago Public Schools (CPS), which educates about 408,000 students in
over 660 schools. Shortly after joining CPS, she applied and was
accepted to The Broad Residency program to "get the professional
development needed to get through the learning curve quickly and build
an amazing network," she said.

Now one of the school district's newest chief area officers, Akeshia
is responsible for managing principals in more than 12 high schools
with thousands of students. Although she didn't follow the traditional
educator path, she brings extensive knowledge and experience in
academic and instructional issues as the former senior project manager
for CPS' instructional leadership council.

Using Data Analysis to Improve Academic Performance
"The
work I'm doing now... the approach to problem solving and analytical
way of thinking is possible because of my strong background in math and
science," Akeshia said. "Data drives all of our decisions and helps us
improve academic performance. Analytical skills definitely come into
play. I feel like I was called to the work I'm doing now."

Akeshia CravenPart
of Akeshia's goal is to help principals "maintain the momentum" and
"build on wins" from CPS' Freshmen On-Track metric, which helps
identify at-risk freshmen early enough to intervene with personalized
improvement plans and improve academic performance.

"Principals are very capable and motivated to help teachers educate
students," Akeshia said. "But there are lots of distracters, with so
many things that happen at schools day to day. The challenge is to
manage the issues while staying focused on academic performance."

Akeshia plans to spend a significant amount of time in schools to
work with principals in determining their schools' strengths and
weaknesses, based in large part on student data. She will coach
principals on ways to form, motivate and manage effective school
leadership teams and help them access resources and support needed from
the central office. Despite the long days, she enjoys helping school
leaders develop and immediately put into action strategies to improve
academic performance.
"Instruction is mission critical for students. It's the most exciting
work in the school district, with the most immediate and impactful
outcome for students," Akeshia said.

Supporting Principals to Ensure Student Success
With
principal tenure ranging from a couple of years to a couple of decades,
the level and type of training and experience of these leaders varies
from school to school. Akeshia is helping assure all principals -- CEOs
of their high schools -- understand the district-wide vision and focus
on quality instruction, set appropriate academic goals and benchmark
indicators, and manage other important school issues affecting
students' education. From hiring and supervising dozens of employees to
maintaining regular communications with parents, she provides guidance
for principals on a long series of issues that can ultimately help or
hurt the bottom line -- academic performance.

In a school district with about 85 percent of students coming from
low-income households, "Education provides options and the opportunity
to escape cycles of poverty. It raises the bar for what is possible,"
she added. "What our teachers do in the classroom every day will
provide students access to better futures. That's why I'm here."

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  • I know Akeshia. She is smart and will work hard. She clearly is lacking experience as a "school person" so it will be interesting to see if this experiment works.

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