For twenty-one years, it has been no secret that Jeff Dase is dedicated to the students of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), in Chicago, Illinois. He has formerly been a teacher and assistant principal at CPS, before becoming principal of Edward Coles Model for Excellence World Language Academy for nine years. He then served as Chief of Schools for two years and is currently serving as Network Operations Manager.
Jeff says he is passionate about equity in education because he has witnessed first-hand the positive results that come from it at all levels. As a teacher, he witnessed how equitable resources boosted self-esteem and increased academic motivation among students. As a principal, he observed how equity contributed to changing a low performing school into one of the highest performing schools in an urban school district. Then, as Chief of Schools, he watched principals use their budgets to provide equitable resources to their students.
Recently, when talking to an African-American male about his high school experience, he voiced to Jeff that he was devastated when one of his favorite extracurricular classes was taken away from his high school during his sophomore year. He was looking forward to taking the class and his academic performance began to decline that year in school. He eventually rebounded, but it made Jeff realize that students do observe when other schools have more resources and programs than their school. It often effects the student negatively and test scores do not measure up. When giving students the same or similar opportunities to be successful in school, students can be more excited in school and rise to their academic potential.
“My career in education has been making sure all students have equal resources,” Jeff states. “To students, equity often means you care enough to invest in them and that makes the difference of them trying or not. Equity in education helps fuel that motivation.”
When discussing equity in education, Jeff strongly believes more conversations to be held around “the belief gap.” He explains that students can easily notice when teachers do not believe in them or are not invested in their best interest to succeed, which results in the student putting forth a lack of effort in the classroom. If students have people that believe in them, they will succeed, whether it takes one, two, or several years. As a society, it is extremely important to have faith in all students and to emphasize that belief to them, so they can feel it and know it.
As a teacher and assistant principal, Jeff has taken great pride in providing not only high-quality teaching, but exceptional mentoring. He ensured twelve of his male class students followed him to high school and graduated on time in four years. One of those graduates ranked number one in his class and successfully acquired the Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship. This graduate has now moved on to earn his Ph.D. With this example, Jeff wants individuals to understand that males of color can perform at a high academic rate and become successful and productive members of society.
As a principal, Jeff led his school one of the lowest performing to one of the highest performing in the district. He increased Edward Coles Academy scores from 48 to 76 in five years and ultimately assisted in removing the school off the district’s probation list with the highest good standing school status for CPS. Although it was rewarding for him personally and professionally, it more importantly gave his students a motivating first-hand success story from an individual that looked like them.
“I asked my students to look in the mirror and know that they are headed to one of the best performing schools in the city of Chicago, as I informed them that their school is no longer on probation,” Jeff remembers. “I accomplished my goal and knew that with progress all the other accomplishments would come. It felt gratifying to reach a goal when many thought it was not possible.”
Jeff further lead his Network to one of the best in the district as Chief of Schools. Under his leadership, there was an increase in good standing school status and overall student performance. He admits that it was a struggling first year, but he faced every challenge with tenacity to achieve his goal. He continued to ensure there were high-quality education opportunities for all students, especially African-American males. Jeff started a Black Male Advisory group comprised of African-American male students from each of his high schools to ensure there were supports in place for their success. The group held an annual Black Male Day of Service that engaged male youth with successful male adults as they established a lasting motivational and inspirational connection.
It is unbelievably important for students, especially young men of color, to have a mentor. Mentoring provides young individuals exposure to success, environments, and careers, and Jeff is proud to continually provide that mentorship to many students at CPS and also out of Chicago. He currently mentors a first-grade student in Atlanta who wants to be president of the United States. In turn, Jeff calls him “President Kendall,” to show him that he can be anything he puts his mind to.
“If we want our boys to become young men and eventually men, we need to teach them how to become just that. Positive brings positive, so we need to expose our young men of color to as many positive influences and role models that look like them as possible. It’s never too late, but we must start mentoring our young men in early childhood and elementary school, before they reach middle and high school.”
To make a mentoring program successful, such as his Black Male Advisory group, he believes it is all about the follow through. Simply having a mentoring program is not the key, but the mentors establishing a relationship and ensuring they follow up with the mentee is most important. Not following through or switching mentors is more damaging that not having a mentoring program at all, Jeff says. He recommends starting with a small group of mentors/mentees and expanding if time permits.
Article written by Summer Tarpley.