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Al Raby School for Community & Environment

Excellence Everyday!

Story by Atlantic Research Partners April 25th, 2016

mission & vision

“Our mission and vision are the anchor and pillar of the work that we do. Our mission and vision have a focus on environmental activism, social justice, and community activism.” —Dr. Femi Skanes.
Walking into Al Raby, it’s clear why students and teachers are happy here. The high ceilings, historical architecture, and the smiling students make the warmth of their community infectious. Al Raby has much to be proud of. Four years ago, they were given a School Improvement Grant by the Illinois State Board of Education, a multi-million dollar grant awarded to select schools in Chicago to aid in their progress from a school on probation to an excellent school.

principal, dr. femi skanes

Dr. Femi Skanes was chosen to lead the improvements at Al Raby. As the school principal, she has been making sweeping changes at the school for four years and is known as an empathetic, passionate, and visionary leader. Dr. Skanes and her team worked with Atlantic Research Partners (ARP), its lead partner for the past three years, to develop a specific and impactful pathway for Al Raby’s success. Atlantic Research Partners, recalls its first meeting with Dr. Skanes, “We walked into the conference room and it was lined with chart papers everywhere and Dr. Skanes said “here’s my plan, here’s my vision, and here’s how we plan to use your services.” Skanes’ plan and vision was one of the reasons that this has been a successful partnership. There was very deliberate planning, action, and integration.

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strong curriculum

To ensure that her work at Al Raby would be sustainable and make strides towards closing the achievement gap, Dr. Skanes first focused her attention towards developing a strong curriculum. She discusses the gap in curriculum and teaching when she first entered the school four years ago. “From a leadership perspective, I had concerns because I thought that people were doing high levels of planning with low levels of instructional implementation. So one of our first major projects was to redesign our planning and that was the catalyst really leading us to a full curriculum change…then once we started changing how we plan, then we started organically writing the curriculum: what are our courses, how many units do we have, what do we teach in each unit, do we like how we taught that, do we need to move it around? [Now] we have a full four-year curriculum scope and sequence aligned to Common Core with a Common Assessment in every unit.”

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developing teachers & leaders on campus

To strengthen teachers’ instruction in the classroom, Al Raby partnered with ARP, and paired teachers with experienced coaches in the classroom. As a result of the partnership, instruction is more in-depth, complete, and aligned to external accountability standards. In addition to training teachers to be excellent educators in the classroom, Dr. Skanes has also placed a great emphasis on developing teachers as leaders on campus. “I think that we have developed teacher leaders in a way, and in probably at a rate, that not many schools can really boast about. And I’m not talking about just putting people in positions and saying “Just turn in this document”, but [training teachers] to really think through strategic, purposeful work.”

Dr. Skanes also discusses the importance of creating systems of support to meet all students’ needs with MTSS (a Multi-Tiered System of Support designed to provide personalized instruction for each student’s unique learning needs). “I think that what we have really been able to do is to use the MTSS process for one-to-one individual type of intervention and enrichment…Our students are not just ID numbers to us. We know them name by name, face by face, story by story. A lot of the plans and goals that we have set are because there’s been individual work with students and we are really trying to understand their needs.”

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career & technical education (CTE)

Dr. Skanes’ passion for ensuring that her students’ needs have been met have led her to develop and expand the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at her campus. “I’m really excited about opening up our last few CTE programs that will still align back to our mission and vision. We have opened a pre-law program, a business program, a culinary program, and a broadcast program. So, I’m just excited about the opportunities that we can offer our students.” While Dr. Skanes understands the importance of developing her students and staff within the school, she is passionate about ensuring that her students become leaders for their community. She discusses that, through the Raby Day of Service, her students have been able to integrate themselves as community leaders and activists.

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Raby day of service

“We’ve been doing [Raby Day of Service] for three years now and it’s one full school day. We take all of our students out to local elementary schools and they work with students. When you see the pictures, it really touches your heart. We take all of them out for a full day of service so they understand what it means to give back and what it means to be a part of your community at large.” - Dr. Skanes
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Al Raby & Community Gardening!

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Great News! In the most recent My Voice, My School survey, Al Raby improved in ALL categories, further showing how the hard work of Al Raby’s dedicated staff is paying off!

Al Raby is also being recognized by the Office of Social Emotional Learning as an “Established“ school for the Supportive School Designation. Of the 200 schools that applied, only 60 were granted the award!

Footnote: All photos were repurposed from Al Raby's social media accounts.