November 11, 2022

A Note From CPS Leadership

Click here to view this letter in Spanish, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Filipino, Polish, Ukrainian, Urdu, or Vietnamese.
Dear CPS Families, Colleagues, and Supporters,

My favorite part of my role as CEO is getting to visit our schools, especially when we can celebrate new programs and investments that benefit our students and staff.
Ribbon-cutting ceremony at Clemente High School
We joined students and staff at Roberto Clemente Community Academy to cut the ribbon this week on a fully renovated school library. Last spring, the school entered the library makeover contest sponsored by Scribner, Simon & Schuster, and the Heart of America Foundation and won! Students at Clemente will now have an incredible new space, complete with high-quality, culturally-relevant books and materials, comfortable furniture for students to curl up with a good book, and space that encourages collaboration among students and staff.
Group photo honoring the upgraded facilities at Sullivan High School
At Sullivan High School, students and staff recognized alumnus and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky by naming their new gymnasium in her honor. This upgraded facility will help Sullivan students develop an even greater sense of pride in their school. And I hope the name on the door will remind each of them that they too have the potential to give back to their communities and create a lasting legacy, just as Representative Schakowsky has done in Congress for more than 20 years.
Newberry Elementary after-school cooking class
Another stop on my CPS journey this week was Newberry Elementary School, where I had the pleasure of working alongside students during an after-school cooking class. Huge thanks to the Common Threads program for helping our young people better understand nutrition and empowering them to play an active role in creating the foods they enjoy.
Finally, at Gale Elementary School in Rogers Park, students and staff gathered to celebrate their school’s 100th birthday. Alumni from Gale were also invited to the centennial celebration, where they were treated to school tributes, student performances, and tours of their alma mater, including a wall of photos spanning Gale’s evolution over ten decades of learning.
From a once-in-a-century celebration to an everyday after-school program, this week was a good reminder that there are incredible things happening every day in our schools. I thank the educators, families, and community partners that are making these things happen and look forward to more opportunities to be a part of these CPS moments.

Pedro Martinez
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Public Schools

Around the District

Take Five with Yolanda Powell: Special Education Teacher at Bronzeville Scholastic Institute

Take Five is a series that highlights some of the many CPS staff members who are going above and beyond for our schools. If you know someone who is making a difference, nominate them to be featured here.
A headshot of Yolanda Powell
This week, in honor of Veterans Day, we are pleased to introduce you to Ms. Yolanda Powell, a 28-year military veteran and special education teacher and case worker at Bronzeville Scholastic Institute. Ms. Powell also serves as the lead of her school’s Behavioral Health Team, where she is able to provide extra resources and support to students who are struggling.

A graduate of Chicago Public Schools, Ms. Powell began working in the District as a special education teacher in early 2004. She was also a member of the U.S. Army Reserve at the time, and after only 20 days in the classroom, Ms. Powell was mobilized. She was deployed to a stateside military base, where she trained soldiers who were preparing to be sent overseas. 

Once her service was complete, Ms. Powell picked up where she had left off with a career in special education. She eventually became a citywide teacher serving multiple high schools on Chicago’s South Side, including her alma mater, Lindblom Math and Science Academy. She then worked at the elementary school level for a few years before taking on her current role at Bronzeville Scholastic Institute. 

What led you to pursue a career in special education?
I used to say I would never be a teacher. My mom even suggested it to me when I went to college, and I said, “no, thank you!” But things changed after my son was born premature. He was 1 pound, 14 ounces when he was born, and he needed a lot of support, like occupational and speech therapy. Through that process of trying to get my son the developmental resources he needed, I saw up-close how big of a need there was in this field, and it inspired me to go back to school to earn my Masters in Special Education.

How does your experience in the military impact your approach as an educator?
I use a lot of the skills I developed in the military in my day-to-day life, such as my ability to collaborate, keep students engaged, and coordinate a team of people who are all working toward a common goal. A lot of the students I work with are facing really difficult circumstances, and it requires a lot of teamwork in order to meet their needs and help them grow. I love seeing that light-bulb moment with a kid, whether it’s grasping an academic concept or developing their social-emotional skills. 

What do you like to do outside of work?
I love to hang out with my girlfriends and my family, and I’m a huge fan of concerts and movies. I would love to spend more time with my son, but he’s living in Seattle and is very busy with law school. I love the little things. I had breast cancer last year, and it was very difficult for me. So now I really cherish life and any opportunity I have to simply enjoy living. I love to listen to the birds when I’m on a walk. I like to drive and notice things I’ve never noticed before. And now I talk to my mom every day instead of waiting until the weekend. 

What advice would you like to give your younger self?
Save more money! Seriously though while there are some things I would tell myself not to do, I wouldn’t tell my younger self to go a different way. Everything the younger version of me did created the person I am today. And I’m good with who I am and what I do.

What possession could you absolutely not live without and why?
It’s not a possession, but after last year, I can’t live without my inner peace and joy. Other than that, everything else can go if it needs to — besides my Bible and coffee. I do need those!
Help Us Feature Your Classroom, School, or CPS Team
Want to see the work of your school or CPS team highlighted in this newsletter, on our blog, or across our District’s social media channels? Then please complete this brief form to share your good news! Some topics to consider in the coming weeks include the following:

November is the start of the holiday season, and we know that many schools like to host festive celebrations, including Thanksgiving feasts! We know that schools also often give back by hosting food drives and other community giving events. Please help us shine a spotlight on these and other events by telling us about them using the form above.
Support the CPS Dream Fund Scholarship 
The District is hosting a fall fundraising social for the CPS Dream Fund Scholarship, which financially supports undocumented CPS students in attending college through talent- and need-based scholarships. This social is taking place at Bourbon on Division (2050 W Division St) on Friday, November 18, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here and include unlimited food and drinks. If you have any questions, please contact Susana Mares at
Staying Safe and Healthy During the Holiday Season
As the weather gets colder and families look ahead to holiday gatherings, staying safe and healthy is incredibly important. Cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are increasing, and both COVID and flu infections tend to rise as the weather gets colder and students and staff gather outside of the school setting. Here are some steps to take to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your school community:
  • While CPS is mask-optional, we highly encourage wearing a mask in school to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne illnesses.
  • Free COVID-19 tests are available at every school; we strongly encourage students and staff to contact school administration to get tests, and use these tests before and after the Thanksgiving break and winter break. If you test positive, please report the positive test here and please follow the guidance here.
  • Being up-to-date on vaccinations is one of the best ways you can keep your family safe as we enter the winter months. CPS continues to offer COVID-19 vaccines, including the new “bivalent booster” that offers increased protection against the virus, at a variety of sites. Please visit to review your options and make an appointment. 
  • CPS is also offering flu shots alongside COVID vaccines at our four permanent regional clinics and both our elementary and high school mobile programs. For additional opportunities to get a flu shot, visit this page.
The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) has reported an increase of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases among young children in Chicago. RSV is a common respiratory virus that most people recover from in one to two weeks. However, RSV can pose very serious health risks for young children, including leading to bronchiolitis and pneumonia. For more information on RSV, please read this fact sheet (English | Spanish) from CDPH.
Mrs. Emily Chyba smiling with her daughter Alice
Student and Staff Spotlights
At Bouchet Math and Science Academy, it’s been a memorable school year so far for art teacher Mrs. Emily Chyba because her daughter Alice is now also one of her students. Alice is a big fan of pre-k at Bouchet so far—especially her classroom. It’s the perfect environment to help her build a strong academic foundation, and her mom loves the role she gets to play in her daughter’s academic growth. 

Principal Carmen Navarro became the founding principal of Azuela Elementary School 12 years ago, and she’s still leading the school to new heights today. Right now, her focus is on filling the gaps that have appeared as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. She continues to push the boundaries of what is possible and expects nothing less than excellence from her entire school community. 

And we can’t let Veterans Day pass without thanking Principal Aaron Rucker, who leads Ryder Math and Science Academy in Auburn Gresham, for his service. Principal Rucker notes that his military service helped him develop many skills that he relies on daily as a principal, including leadership, compassion, and communication. He plans to use those skills this year to boost student attendance and expand academic programming.
Two Mason Elementary students playing in their Curiosity Classroom
Helping Our Youngest Students Discover their Interests
As the result of a partnership with the Chicago Children’s Museum and Crown Family Philanthropies, CPS has installed 10 Curiosity Classrooms in neighborhood elementary schools across Chicago. These rooms are geared toward pre-k through second-grade students and are designed to create sensory-rich, hands-on learning environments that help students build skills in STEM, literacy, and the arts. This week, CPS leadership visited Mason Elementary School in North Lawndale to see students in action in a brand-new Curiosity Classroom.
West Side Students Recognized with National Award 
As part of National School Psychology Awareness Week, 35 students from Brunson Elementary School in Austin received the Student POWER Award, recognizing their efforts to make an ongoing difference in their own lives and the lives of others. POWER stands for: 
  • Progress toward individual goals 
  • Optimistic he or she will succeed
  • Willing to solve problems
  • Eager to do his or her best
  • Reaches out to others
Students were highlighted at an award ceremony at Brunson earlier today.
Arts Opportunity for 12th Graders: All-City Senior Portfolio Exhibition 
Submissions for the 2023 All-City Senior Portfolio Exhibition are open now until November 28th, 2022. All 12th grade students from any CPS school (including charter, contract, and options schools) are encouraged to submit their artwork for a chance to exhibit their work and gain exposure among selected college admissions representatives. Please review the