New Principal at Epic Academy wants students to be proud
Dr. Kyla Mathews’ grandfather sowed a seed when she was in seventh grade that is now fully blossomed. She told her grandfather that she wanted to be a teacher, a math teacher, and he told her that she would be a principal. Thirty years later, she is the new principal at Epic Academy.
Mathews is a 2021 graduate of the UIC Urban Education Leadership Program, which allowed her to study how to do transformative work in schools that service underrepresented populations. She has a heart for the hard work that is necessary to move schools in cities like Chicago.
During Mathews’ time at Simeon, she built up the Math Department. Mathews is a product of South Chicago. She grew up in the 60617-zip code.
“Now I have this opportunity to come carve my niche in the zip code that gave me my opportunity in the first place,” she said.
Chicagoans oftentimes will ask other Chicagoans they meet what high school they attended. Mathews wants students that attend Epic to be able to proudly say they are a product of that high school. She wants the students to have a captivating narrative about their experience of graduating from Epic.
Mathews acknowledges that Epic has a great framework around college and career. Students who attend the Charter High School take a college and career seminar course, starting in ninth grade. It allows the students the opportunity to have space to think about what they want to do after graduation. The course is something Mathews wants to amplify.
Mathews also wants to bring innovation curriculum, which includes robotics and droning. It is her way to show the students their interests are at the forefront of the school’s decision making.
Mathews wants to celebrate the students that have high SAT scores and extreme high numbers in scholarship dollars, but also, students who have high attendance.
On the First Day of School, on Aug, 29, Epic hosted a Pep Rally with Power 92, to celebrate all the students that demonstrated the Epic Way.
“We want children to know, you really showed up, you deserve to be congratulated,” Mathews said, adding that she is very big on customer service.
There are about 450 students at the school. Mathews wants the students to know they are welcome and Epic is their school. To further the environment of belonging, she wants students to know that South Chicago and the Southeast side are part of Chicago, something that can get lost in narratives that portray the community as one of the poorest in the city. She wants the students to see themselves as Chicagoans and to know they belong wherever they go.
A history teacher at Epic will have components in the curriculum that will lift up Chicago’s truths and historical context. One of the components is the Great Migration where Black people came to Chicago from the South. Mathews also wants to partner with the principal at George Washington High School.
“I think Epic has a beautiful frame of how to get to greatness, but I’m helping people understand how to get better at getting better. One of the things you have to get courageous enough at doing is naming either what’s hurting us or naming what we do great, so we can interrupt either what doesn’t work and we can build on what does work,” Mathews said.
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