As the school year comes back around, it is the perfect time for kids and parents to get engaged again with their schools and communities. Part of that process is getting familiar with the staff and faculty in the schools, and one position everyone knows is the principal.
At Carl Sandburg Elementary, Lori Lopez is assuming the position of principal after acting as interim principal over the last year. Moving from teaching special education in Cicero, Illinois, to Madison initially drew Lopez to MMSD. She has been with the district for 10 years. After some time at Leopold Elementary and Southside Elementary (formerly Allis Elementary), a spot at Sandburg Elementary opened up and Lopez was compelled to pursue the opportunity, even in the face of advice to never take an interim position.
“I was leading with my gut, and it’s been the best experience for me,” Lopez told Madison365. “I know why my gut was leading me there. At Sandburg, what’s so special is, as a leader, I feel like I can be my true self and be my whole self with our staff, students, families, and community. Sometimes it’s hard to find that as a leader, so I wanted to be the lead permanent principal. I think that was probably one of the things I wanted most in life.”
As someone who stressed the importance of leading from a place of listening and learning, Lopez celebrated the community and staff of Sandburg in their efforts to build strong connections in the eastside school located near Reindahl Park. Other great aspects, such as the dual-language immersion (DLI) program at Sandburg, as well as Alder Sabrina Madison’s engagement with the school, also serve as valuable components to both education and drawing connections between community and school.
“I think Sandburg is unique,” said Lopez. “There’s a lot of love in the community, there’s a lot of positivity, and there’s just a lot of can-do mindset. Those are the people you want to be around when you’re leading. You want to be around those with the right mindset to do the work. For me, all of my experiences put me in systems work, and I want to continue to dig deeper into systems because to me systems create the conditions necessary for students to thrive.”
Some of the developments Lopez spoke about also acknowledge how the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are not far away, but solutions are constantly being innovated. Integrated Comprehensive Systems for Equity provides the framework that Lopez sees as important for exploring the systems that have the largest impact on kids, as well as turning an intentional focus on reading and literacy.
While Lopez is excited to step into the role of principal permanently, the focus on staff surrounding her and highlighting both the kids and community of Sandburg are truly what drive the constant push for making better experiences for students and families alike.
“The number one thing that we heard from our families is we are worried about safety in schools, second, we want to make sure we feel a sense of belonging to the school when we come to visit, and, third, I want to connect with other families, and I’m hoping to do that through school,” Lopez said, ensuring that staff are actively thinking of ways to offer more family engagement opportunities.
“It’s interesting because we have quite the opposite problem at our school. If we invite families in and they bring someone with them, we have a capacity issue. We have a beautiful problem to solve, which is that so many of our families are seeking that connection. We just have to make sure we have enough space for them.”
With the academic year quickly approaching, having good problems is certainly not a bad place to start.