Photo of a Headshot of Principal Dr. Spence of Blue Island-Robbins NN

If you want to learn about a community, take a look at its schools. Who attends them? What’s being taught? Where are the students struggling and succeeding?

As leaders of their schools, principals play a crucial role in the success of students. They create the culture and have the power to steer the institution toward achievement. United Way of Metro Chicago appreciates their contribution and is proud to highlight the principals who work in our Neighborhood Networks during Principal Appreciation Week.

Caring for students beyond the classroom

For two years, Dr. Monica Spence has served as principal of Thomas J. Kellar Middle School in Robbins, which is part of our Blue Island-Robbins Neighborhood Network.

During her tenure, Dr. Spence has developed her own leadership style, one that’s based on learning from the past and prioritizing strong communication with her students and their parents. She reminisces of a time when “your teacher actually knew your parents” and aims for that connection with her 501 students, all of whom require additional life supports to address to non-academic challenges.

“Our children arrive to school with baggage from home,” Dr. Spence said, ranging from domestic abuse to trauma from gun violence. Spence tries to build a relationship with each student to help them manage. “It’s easier once they know, ‘I can trust you,’” she says.

Spence became a teacher because she had a knack for getting kids to open up, and now she uses it more than ever. But the communication isn’t one-way. “They think I’m teaching them,” she says, “but I learn more about life through their experiences than anything else. Every day, I learn something new from them.”