by Gael Granados
If you walked into The Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) at lunch time this year, you might be surprised. Students are gathered in groups wandering the halls. Classrooms are filled with excited voices discussing K-Pop groups or the complexities of chess. There are spots for the more quiet and studious, too, with teachers playing soft music to embrace the students in a relaxing environment.
The lunchtime change is just one of the many administrative changes that are being implemented by an entirely new team of professionals leading ChiArts this year.
Lorraine Cruz is the new interim principal for ChiArts and has been working in education and leadership for over 36 years. Part of this has included developing curriculum and dual language programs.
Speaking on her outlook while taking the role of interim principal, Cruz said, “Everyone doesn’t learn the same way. My expertise really comes from observation and listening.” This is Cruz’s fifth job as a principal; she previously worked as a social studies teacher.
Cruz is joined by a new assistant principal, Dr. Tiffanie McLeary. Founder and editor-in-chief for Melanin Magazine, a publication for teen girls of color, Dr. McLeary has also worked in education for 24 years.
Dr. McLeary feels her works has prepared her to support the students and principal of ChiArts.
“I have my master’s and my doctorate degree is in higher education, so I have that experience to help me figure out the ropes here at ChiArts,” she said.
At the beginning of the year, ChiArts had a dean, but he has since left the position. ChiArts’ new dean is Denton Harris, whose life has followed the arts — he even performed on Team John Legend on NBC’s “The Voice.”
One of this new administration’s first steps is to make a change with student IDs, announced in ChiArts’ online newsletter, in a segment called “Principal’s Corner.”
Cruz wrote, “We are asking that scholar-artists have their IDs on their persons to enter school.” In the announcement, Cruz said she’s asking this of students to “ensure safety for all” and to begin treating ChiArts IDs as a “VIP card.”
With this new rule, Cruz also introduced a new privilege attached to student IDs. She wrote, “Current ChiArts IDs will be honored at local restaurants, cafes and bakeries with a 10 percent discount.” A list of local businesses honoring this discount has yet to be released.
Cruz wants the ChiArts ID to mean more to students, saying, “In order to support and encourage students to carry those IDs and have them with them we want to use the IDs for incentives around the city.” An African boutique called Sage and Shea honors a ChiArts ID with a discount, according to Cruz.
With this new system, some students have expressed concerns about issues in the ChiArts community.
Kitty Batie, a senior at ChiArts, said lunch is “not very well-organized.” Batie said the time someone waits to get lunch has grown.
Because of this, ChiArts’ administration’s next course involves confronting active issues in the ChiArts community, including finding solutions to crowded lunch lines and refining the open lunch system.
McLeary said that ChiArts’ lunch service is provided by a consultant business, which, she said, is “having a difficult time finding someone to help serve lunches,” causing lunches to come out slower and not as efficiently.
Dr. McLeary hopes that utilizing student IDs along with a new lunch system will encourage a stronger ChiArts community.
Dr. McLeary said, “Next year we could do color coding.” She explained that this would be a small change to the IDs that would offer smoother transitions in lunch lines as well as allow teachers and staff to connect with students.
Cruz said a stronger communication between students and staff is a way to strengthen this connection.
“We are in the process of putting together a quick survey to get more student feedback. What could that look like? What do you as students feel is needed in terms of that continued communication?,” she said.
Students at ChiArts have praised the new open lunch system, saying the ability to go out into the school is less restrictive compared to previous years. Kendal Amos, a senior, said, “The changes feel like they’re building more community.”
While the administration sees these changes as solutions, some students are concerned about unexpected consequences.
Increasing times to get into the building might be a consequence from the new rules.
Timothy Richie, a senior at ChiArts, said that it takes about five minutes for him to get into the building. That time will increase with the need to show the ChiArts ID.
While there is no plan currently in place, Dr. McLeary said she wanted to examine the current times for students coming into the building.
The open lunches only started a couple weeks ago, but some students are concerned about fights. Amos said that the open lunch policy may allow for fights to happen more frequently.
In an email, Cruz said, “There are no official fights that were reported or recorded,” adding that “the lunch program as it has been designed, has not caused fights, problems or danger.”
ChiArts culture and community remains a standing pillar throughout the staff changes. Dr. McLeary wants to enhance what the ChiArts community already has rather than attempt to change the culture.
As interim principal, Cruz hopes to open the already creative space into an environment that can flourish.
“In that sense, you’re the ones that need to have the space and the place to grow. To test things out. To try things on and be able to ask honestly and without fear, ‘Hey, is this something we could do? Can we try it out?’ The worst is gonna happen is a no,” Cruz said.