Kathy McInerney, teacher at CICS West Belden

My name is Kathy McInerney. I am a second grade teacher at Chicago International Charter School (CICS) West Belden, a school that’s managed by Distinctive Schools. Prior to teaching second grade during the 2017-18 school year, I taught first and third grade in a multi-age classroom environment. I’ve enjoyed all the classrooms I have been part of, and I’m looking forward to continuing my work with second grade for years to come.

Teaching wasn’t my first career. In college, I majored in communications and worked for a few years in the marketing and communications industry. That’s where I realized that sitting at a desk from nine-to-five wasn’t for me. After much thought and reflection, I knew I wanted to make a positive impact on communities. I knew that I could do this through teaching.

So, I went back to graduate school to get a master’s degree in teaching. One of my professors recommended me for a position as a teaching residency at CICS West Belden, which I gladly accepted. At the end of my residency, I was offered a full-time position as a teacher and never looked back. Today, I am happy with my career transition and truly love teaching at CICS West Belden.

There are many things that make CICS West Belden special, including the academics, culture, and leadership. What’s really unique about the academics at CICS West Belden is that we are given the opportunity to provide each student what they need to succeed. As a second grade teacher, I work on a team with another second grade teacher, and between the two of us, we look at each of our sixty students and use data to analyze where each one is in each subject area. Then, we place students into different groups based on their individual needs and teach them the skills they need to improve. Students are free to learn at their own pace in flexible learning environments, and student engagement and learning is seen throughout the classroom.

I also love the school culture the staff and leadership have established with parents and students at CICS West Belden. Our students are awesome! They encourage each other to do their best each day. Similarly, our parents are spectacular. Our families come from all backgrounds and income levels and are incredibly active at school and support their children. They attend Friday P.R.I.D.E. assemblies, innovation nights, parent/teacher conferences days, and much more. Likewise, our staff is amazingly transparent and communicative which one another, as well as with our CICS West Belden community . We are a family of educators, and CICS West Belden Bulldog pride is evident!

Additionally, there are a handful of CICS campuses that have staff members dedicated to advocacy in a group called Advocacy Ambassadors. Last year, I was asked to become CICS West Belden’s Advocacy Ambassador. In this role, I have had the opportunity to attend monthly Chicago Board of Education meetings with parents, charter school rallies and press conferences with parents and other charter school events to ensure that elected officials get to see the great work that we’re doing at CICS West Belden. This role has been one of the most most exciting additions to me being a CICS West Belden teacher. For example, the CICS network’s charter with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), which includes CICS West Belden, was up for renewal. The charter renewal process is a part of CPS oversight and compliance requirements. Up until December 2017, the CICS charter was renewed every five years. We wanted to make sure that the CPS staff saw the amazing work that we were doing at CICS West Belden to grant us a longer charter.

Therefore, the CICS network got busy!! I, along with other CICS staff and its Advocacy Ambassadors, coordinated and organized a letter-writing campaign. I was surprised to find out that thousands of letters were written by CICS students and parents to the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education, letting them know that CICS is their choice! The CICS parents and students spoke about their positive experience with CICS, as well as its strong academic program for students. In part, due to the CICS strong academic record along with robust and committed parent and student voices, CICS was granted a seven-year renewal. This is an amazing feat!

Furthermore, my  role as an Advocacy Ambassador with CICS has taken me from the chambers of the CPS Board of Education to the Illinois state capitol, Springfield. In May 2018, 35 CICS West Belden parents attended the Illinois Network of Charter School’s Lobby Day. The dedicated and passionate parents met with their state representatives and shared the good work that is an every occurrence at CICS West Belden. I can’t wait to go back to Springfield  next year! It’s a pleasure and an honor to work with a parents who love this school as much as I do!

Ultimately, when I became part of the CICS West Belden family, I did not expect the joy and pride that experience day-to-day with the students, staff, leadership, families, and school community. I have learned so much and continue learning every day. Likewise, as an Advocacy Ambassador, i have learned so much and continue to learn every day. I am grateful for those who advocate alongside me, and education peers. Today, I can honestly say, I do what I love and love what I do.