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“We let teachers be teaching specialists, my goal is not to get in the way.” Acero-Tamayo Principal Matthew Katz Supports Excellent Teaching

Posted on: May 17, 2021

“What distinguishes a high performing school is the quality of the teachers and what’s going on in the classroom. The real success happens with students and teachers,” says Principal Matthew Katz of Acero–Rufino Tamayo. Tamayo is one of the highest performing elementary schools in Chicago, serving 280 students on the city’s Southwest side. Like the charter public schools recently featured in INCS’ “Beat the Odds” brief, Principal Katz owes Tamayo’s success to a strong adult culture. “Our school is a place where teachers feel valued from the inside out and have the freedom to innovate.”

At Tamayo, senior leadership is intensely focused on supporting teachers without micromanaging what happens in the classroom. Guided by shared frameworks for instruction and planning, teachers have a lot of autonomy over curriculum choice and can design many aspects of their own schedules. Importantly, leadership works to remove any barriers to letting teachers do what they do best. Teachers are not responsible for designing schoolwide initiatives or planning events. “We let teachers be teaching specialists,” shares Katz. “My goal is not to get in the way.”

This commitment has paid off. For five of the past six years, Tamayo has boasted a 100% teacher retention rate. Drawing on his own career as a teacher, Katz believes that excellent teaching is an aspirational goal for anyone in their career. His goal is to create the environment where each teacher can lead a fulfilling, complex career that starts and ends as a leader in the classroom. To that end, teachers are provided quality professional development to refine their teaching skills, as well as progressive pay and benefits through the Acero network. Teachers then can self-select into leadership roles and subcommittees to advise on things like school calendar, schedule, and pandemic safety depending on their individual areas of interest.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Katz and his leadership team have worked diligently to keep teachers and students supported. “I can’t say enough about teacher work this year–especially K-2, it’s incredible challenging,” says Katz. “Asking a skilled teacher to do their job remotely is like asking a chef to do a cooking show instead of making real food. It’s a completely different set of skills.” Tamayo’s  transition to remote learning centered on teacher voice—from selecting online learning tools to creating new partnerships. This has resulted in unique remote learning opportunities for students. For example, Tamayo partnered with the University of Alaska—experts in homeschooling—to provide online elective courses. Students could create their own home garden using a giant fish tank provided by the university or learn about physics using marble cannons.  Last month, Dr. Anjanta Patel will spoke to Tamayo students and families about Chicago’s vaccine distribution effort.

Taking a cue from teachers this year paid dividends for student success. Attendance remained high all year, at 96% –  just 2% below the previous year’s average. Through daily morning meetings, regular clubs, and 2 sets of student-led conferences, Tamayo is making sure “students feel how real this year actually is.” Making sure that each student feels engaged—whether it’s in the classroom or an extracurricular activity—helps ensure that students succeed in school.  Next year Katz is looking forward to engaging again in person, and reflects that this year him and his dedicated teaching staff really learned the value of togetherness in school.

Learn more about Tamayo and read about other high-performing charter public schools in INCS’ latest “Beat the Odds” brief, linked here.