SCHOOLS | April 9, 2021
When Ms. Michelle Soto attended Nightingale Elementary School for the first time in third grade, she knew deep down that the school was going to be part of her life long after her time as a student.
“It was here at Nightingale that I knew that teaching and education was going to be something I was going to get into,” she said. “When I left, I knew that I had to find my way back because this is where I wanted to be.”
She returned to Nightingale as a student teacher in 2000 and has been working at the school ever since. Over the past two decades, her career has been shaped by a series of small pushes from administrators who saw her potential to take on greater responsibility at the school. While she initially thought her sweet spot was teaching younger students—she taught kindergarten for six years—one of her APs at the time encouraged her to make the transition to teaching middle school.
“My AP told me that the way I interacted and built foundations with the younger students would translate well to helping middle school students with reading and writing,” she said. “I took that as a huge compliment and saw it as an opportunity to venture out and put myself in a new area.”
Soon, the same thing happened again. An administrator saw her working with her sixth-graders during summer school and approached her with a new opportunity.
“At the time, we had just gotten a new principal, and she was really impressed with how I interacted with my students. She asked me if I wanted to become the school’s bilingual lead,” she said. “I was a little nervous not being in the classroom anymore because it’s a big transition, but she convinced me and that role is what led to me becoming an assistant principal.”
After taking the leap toward becoming an administrator, AP Soto quickly realized that organization would continue to be one of the most important aspects of her role. The same planning skills needed to provide seamless instruction in the classroom were also essential in preparing for staff meetings and communicating effectively with parents.
“Being an AP is the perfect balance for me because you’re in management, but you’re not too far removed from the teachers either,” she said. “I can teeter-totter between supporting our principal, working with our instructional leadership team and subbing, which I really like.”
Perseverance is the quality that stands out for AP Soto when she thinks about how she’s grown over the past year. And not just as an administrator. She’s also the mom of a Nightingale third grader and first grader. She describes navigating remote learning for her two kids as a second full-time job—especially with her youngest, who struggled with the technology and staying engaged.
Having her two kids back in the building with her reminds her to keep pressing forward to provide all students at Nightingale with a quality education.
“As a school leader, you can feel vulnerable when you don’t have the answer. But this year has taught me that it’s okay to not understand everything or have the answers to everything,” she said. “At the end of the day, we just need to remember that the things we are persevering through are for the benefit of our students.”
This year, AP Soto has seen that her students benefit from strong ties between the school and its surrounding community more clearly than ever before. With many parents losing their jobs because of the pandemic, the school partnered with their local YMCA and nearby churches, collected donations, and provided gift cards to support families.
As a former Nightingale student and current parent, AP Soto sees herself in her families. With no plans to ever leave the school, she says the community will always be at the heart of her work.
“Yes, school is all about education because we want to mold productive members of society. But we are also a part of the community as well,” she said. “It’s wonderful that parents see Nightingale as a pillar of the community and are able to come here with their needs and not feel embarrassed or ashamed.”
Celebrate your favorite AP this month using the Chicago Education Fund’s social media toolkit, which has prompts and graphics to help inspire you. #APsRock.