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Angela Newton, Assistant Principal STEM Coordinator, Lake View High School
While on a recruiting trip for the United States Army Recruiting Command, Chicago native Angela Newton noticed that the high schools she visited in the windy city didn’t have the vibrancy that she remembered; there was no excitement. She wanted to change that. Using the education benefits she earned through the Illinois Veterans Grant, she received her teaching certification from Chicago State University (CSU) and taught science and engineering in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for five years. Angela’s current position is Assistant Principal STEM Coordinator at Lake View High School in Chicago’s north side. Despite her incredibly busy schedule, Angela took some time to speak with me about the unique path that led her to STEM education.
With an undergraduate degree in chemistry, pursuing a science teaching certification seemed like a natural choice. Because Angela’s certification program endorsed her to teach all sciences, she was extremely grateful for all the help she received from the mentor teachers in each of the science disciplines at CSU. She found the help of the chemistry mentor teacher, Ms. Koziarski, a retired teacher with decades of service in CPS, particularly valuable.
After receiving her certification but before her first year teaching, Angela spent the summer taking CSU’s Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) course, a professional development class for in-service teachers funded by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Angela spoke highly of her experiences with the program, including learning about POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning), developing standards-based instruction, and gaining access to one of CSU’s outreach efforts: The Chemistry Van.
Angela’s first teaching job was at VOISE Academy, a technology-focused high school in Chicago’s west side, where students are assigned laptops instead of textbooks. As the sole physical science teacher, she was responsible for designing curriculum and ordering all the chemicals, glassware, and lab equipment during her first year. Thankfully, through her experiences with CSU’s PCK summer program, the Chemistry Van delivered lab equipment right to her classroom door! In addition, Angela felt comfortable reaching out to her CSU mentors for guidance and support.
After teaching two years at VOISE, Angela took a position at Chicago Military Academy, a CPS school on the south side. During her three years there, she taught chemistry, physics, engineering design, engineering digital future, and forensic science. Angela excitedly told me about a handful of the engineering design projects her students created, some of which sounded like they could easily be the next infomercial craze: a USB-powered fan for bedrooms with only one outlet, dishwashing gloves with sponges at the tips of the fingers, and a combination comb and hair spray, an invention to “brush, then flip to spritz” created by a student who was tired of waiting for his girlfriend to find both items individually. In addition to offering her a chance to teach new courses, Chicago Military Academy also had a much larger science department than the one at VOISE, giving Angela the opportunity to learn from experienced teachers.
At both schools, Angela took on administrative roles as well, serving as department chair, participating on the Instructional Leadership Team, and helping with curriculum development efforts. Knowing that she wanted to be an instructional support leader, essentially a coach for STEM teachers, she received her Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Governors State University.
Angela found her administrative home in a science-based position: Assistant Principal STEM coordinator at Lake View High School. Angela passionately spoke of her new position and the school’s climate. At Lake View, Angela has been able to use her science background to help broaden the focus of STEM education beyond technology by incorporating more aspects of science, math, and engineering. With support from the NSF and corporate partners, Lake View participated in Computer Science week this past fall, a computer science initiative for all. Ten sophomores from Lake View even participated in an outreach program to teach elementary students how to code! Lake View students can also take dual credit courses, earning college credit within the walls of their high school.
Given Angela’s current position as STEM coordinator, I asked her what colleges and universities could do to help K-12 schools. She quickly responded that the new teachers coming out of higher education teacher preparation programs are fantastic: they know how to break down their lessons to match the goals of the Next Generation Science Standards, bring wonderful interdisciplinary ideas to the table, and are excelling in the classroom. In her eyes, the next step is for colleges and universities to provide professional development for in-service teachers, much like the program she took at CSU. Many of these experienced teachers don’t know about things like POGIL and PCK, and Angela thinks colleges and universities could serve as valuable resources for their continued professional development.
As a product of Chicago Public Schools, Angela is able to connect with her students in a very genuine way. In her, they see someone from their neighborhood be successful; they know that she gets it. When the students think that she “works them too hard,” they trust that she cares about them and they stick to it because they love her.