If you want to learn about a community, look at its schools. Who attends them? What’s being taught? Where are they struggling and succeeding? A principal plays a crucial role as the leader of a school. They create the culture in them and steer the institution down a path of achievement or failure. United Way understands this and is proud to highlight the principals who work in our Neighborhood Networks during Principal Appreciation Week.
For two years, Dr. Monica Spence has served as principal of Thomas J. Kellar Middle School, located in the Blue Island/Robbins Neighborhood Network. It’s a school full of “at-risk students,” a term Spence uses to describe the students less likely to transition successfully into adulthood and realize their full potential.
Spence’s leadership style comes from knowledge of what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t. She reminisces of a time when “your teacher actually knew your parents,” and strives to see that’s true for the 501 students enrolled at Kellar, especially because of the problems they face. “Our children arrive to school with baggage from home,” she says, ranging from domestic abuse to trauma from gun violence. Spence tries to build a relationship with each student to help them manage. “It’s easier once they know, ‘I can trust you,’” she says.
Spence became a teacher because she had a knack for getting kids to open up, and now she uses it more than ever. But the communication isn’t one-way. “They think I’m teaching them,” she says, “but I learn more about life through their experiences than anything else. Every day I learn something new from them.”
Thomas J. Kellar Middle School is part of the 143.5 Posen-Robbins School District, which is comprised of five schools and over 1500 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.