Palmer Elementary School
My name is Jennifer Dixon and I am the proud Principal of Palmer Elementary School. Palmer serves students across a multitude of backgrounds, speaking over 20 different languages. I have served the Chicago Public Schools since 2002 as a classroom teacher, literacy coach, assistant principal, and principal, having taught in schools across the city from 83rd and Racine to Foster and Pulaski. With the passing of my mother in 2012, I began to rethink my purpose and became even more driven to ensure that all children, no matter their zip code, socio-economic status, race, or ethnicity had access to powerful educational systems that would ensure their future success. In life, my mother had always encouraged me to work hard and to face obstacles with drive and determination. She loved everyone around her with a fierceness and deep sense of service to others. In death, I recognized in full view that our time together is short and that the daily choices we make with the time we're blessed to have been given matters. Being situated in the role of principal gives me opportunity to live out this mindset every day through the choices I make in service of the students within my school. Just as my mother fiercely loved and was in service to others, I too live on with a broader purpose to learn from the experiences of others and to ensure that those too often disenfranchised have voice and opportunity within our school community.
Why I choose to engage in equity work
For the past 18 years I've been in service to the students, families, and teachers of Chicago. I've spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the imperative for equity-focused work within our large school district. I come to my work today holding a set of key beliefs that drive my leadership work, specifically through an equity lens. This serves as my why. Resource equity is an imperative and those of us with the power to allocate and procure resources have a duty to ensure equal access across and within every school community. Curriculum through an equity lens should empower students to use their voice and allow them to see themselves, as well as learn from the experiences of others in the texts they read. I passionately believe that our school environments should be reflective of student identity, as well as beautiful and enriching spaces for children to explore content collaboratively. Why engage actively in equity work? Ultimately, I engage to ensure that no student in my school community is without the absolute best we can offer in the most supportive environment we are able to provide. Our students and families deserve no less.
My equity challenge and how I work on it
About three years ago, we began to notice that our school facilities were in need of attention. I saw how in the absence of bright, beautiful learning spaces our collective sense of pride in our school community diminished. We needed an awakening and beautification across our school. I worked to bring together parents and supported them to share their voice through advocacy. Our parents worked to engage community stakeholders to advocate for school facilities improvements. Their voices were heard and our school has since been afforded a beautiful physical transformation that makes us all so proud to be a member of the Palmer community. As principal, this led me to further examine resource equity and how I leverage our existing budget, as well as seek out additional funding sources through grants and non profit partnerships. As a result of these efforts, we've been able to bring greenhouse gardens, flexible seating furniture in common areas, and computer lab improvements. These improvements to the physical space, as well as access to rich and resourced learning environments has brought about a sense of pride that empowers our students to learn and grow together.
What sustains me when equity work stalls, how do I stay motivated when the work gets hard, and how do I push myself and others to advance equity
When the work gets hard (and it does) I create space for myself to move onto other work or take a break. For me, this has meant paying close attention to how my body reacts to stress. I want to ensure that I'm making the best choices possible and advocating for my school community as a positive role model. If I'm struggling, others will struggle. I've come to find that tending to my own mental health through learning new skills (I'm currently learning to sail), talking with friends, exercise, a good meal, or simply sitting quietly can really help my mind to refocus and get back into the work. This work is too important to not do well and if you're not taking care of yourself, you won't be able to be in service to others.
I've been so lucky to have found amazing thought partners and opportunity across every role I've had within the Chicago Public Schools. The work of organizations like the Chicago Public Education Fund and our district's new Equity Office have afforded me the opportunity to keep learning and growing as I engage in equity work. I've come to see equity work as all of my work. All individuals working within Chicago Public Schools have the opportunity to reflect how their work promotes equity and take action to improve outcomes for our students. How very fortunate we are!