Principal Wang Has Learned A Lot Since He Started At ChiArts

Photograph courtesy of Michael Wang.

by Noire Lin

Becoming a dad changed Michael Wang’s life.

“It’s a lot different now with my own family. Before the suburbs, the city —everything — I never truly had the perspective of, ‘Oh shoot, this is someone’s child. This could be my own child,’” Wang said in an interview with The ChiArts Doublespace.

Wang, who didn’t want to give his age, is the principal at The Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts), a job he has done for nine years. By the time he heard about ChiArts, Wang had already been working in the education field for three years. He revealed that he had been looking for a job closer to the city when he learned that ChiArts was hiring and immediately became drawn to the culture of arts the school promoted and their mission.

“I just sat down at the table with Ms. Boyer Brown and said, ‘Hi. I’m Mike Wang, and I love teaching.’ I was already exhausted from all the other interviews I had that day and was just brutally honest,” Wang said. “I was just all for that type of community and the kids and how unique of a mission that ChiArts had to increase diversity in art that I was just like, ‘Let’s talk.’”

Even before Wang began as a Biology teacher at ChiArts, he was working towards his M.D. in Education. However, not long after he began teaching at ChiArts, he felt burnt out by the overall structure of the science and social studies department. In the past, science and social studies teachers taught every single freshman and followed the block schedule strictly without a free period.

“It got to the point where in the back of my head, I was like, ‘Y’know, if I was in charge … What could I do?’” Wang said. “I don’t think people understand how restrictive a bell schedule can be and how much it’s like the bell dictates when you pee and when you could sit down, y’know?”

Back at the previous ChiArts building on 35th Street, Wang held what he described as a “pseudo-administrative” job that included general office work, supervising at the freshmen-only campus and therapy for the students. When the rumor of ChiArts making the move to its current home on Augusta Boulevard rose, Wang became concerned about whether or not he could continue in an administrative-like job. The school’s executive director, José Ochoa, reassured him that he would be just fine.

In 2016, ChiArts set out to find a new principal after the previous one left. Ochoa approached Wang to ask if he would like to serve as interim principal for the time being as they sorted through potential candidates — actually, Wang himself was on the search list. Ochoa asked if he would also like to have some time to think about the offer.

He said he didn’t need any time at all.

“I told him that, ‘I want to do this. This school is my home, these people are my family — this school is something I want to take care of,’” Wang said.

There are many restrictions to the decisions made within the ChiArts administration. The Board of Directors must evaluate the long-term benefits of any major decision and whether or not the community needed them above other proposals. Being on the official side of administration now, Wang said that he reflected on his past thoughts about change within the system.

“A lot of old ideas that I had as a teacher? They were bad ideas. Well, I shouldn’t say bad. Ethically, they were good ideas. But being a teacher, you only see one side of things, y’know? You don’t always see the physical limitations and restrictions on the administration as a teacher — really, just the politics of it all aren’t seen,” Wang stated.

A new campaign in the works is “Compassionate ChiArts.” The campaign is grounded in understanding a student’s background and how it applies to their school experience; using compassion, ChiArts can better aid students in their journey through high school.

Wang said that it has always been important to address racism and trauma, and to tie everything together through the ChiArts core values, but the Compassionate ChiArts initiative is working towards narrowing what needs to be done and what angle it can be done from. It’ll be a long journey in gathering statistics and overall data from the ChiArts community, but the bigger picture is worth the possibility of ChiArts becoming that much more inclusive, Wang said.

“From the moment that you walk in to the moment where you walk across the stage at Harris Theatre, we are working towards making your journey easier,” Wang said. “I hope that we are building a culture — a community — that self-actualizes mutual respect for each other as artists and people that come from different backgrounds.”

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