Disrupting the Status Quo through Social Justice
SCHOOLS | August 16, 2021
Disrupting the Status Quo through Social Justice

By Dr. Barbara San-Roman, Principal of George Washington High School


Nearly a full year ago, my administrative team and I decided to create a YouTube series to kick off the new school year and engage our students as they learned from home. To make it more entertaining, we decided to show off our newly fixed pool through a challenge in one of the episodes—as a new principal, I would have to answer questions about the school, and if I got one wrong, I would jump in. 

“How many students do we have at George Washington?” 

“1,550.” 

“What’s the school’s address?” 

“3535 E. 114th St.” 

“What’s the main office number for the school?”

“…” 

I blanked, and before I knew it, I was soaking wet. This is one of the first memories I made as principal of Washington, and, to me, it symbolizes that regardless of what is going on, you have to roll with the punches and ground yourself in finding joy in the work that you do. 

A lot of my passion comes from two key goals that have been important to me since I was a high school English teacher. The first is meeting the needs of our students through a commitment to social justice. Our curriculum needs to reflect our student population, and our school’s policies and structures need to be equitable and restorative. 

The other goal is that my school acts as a community hub. It should provide workshops for parents, serve students of all ages, and be able to give families the resources they need through partnerships that strengthen the entire neighborhood. 

What I’ve learned from my mentors who have come before me is that, to reach those goals, you need to have a vision for the future. At Washington, we set four-year goals right away. Of course, these goals are adaptive. Everything connects back to the gaps that exist between who we say we are as a school and who we actually are, and being unafraid to have the deep reflection and difficult conversations needed to fill in those gaps. 

As challenging as the past year has been, a bright spot was that it pushed all of us to become better strategic planners. At one point, I swear we had like 17 different plans just in case the school year unfolded in a way that we didn’t expect. Now that we’re ready to welcome all of our students back to Washington, we can channel that planning into meeting and exceeding our priorities for the upcoming year. 

First and foremost, we’re focused on supporting the mental health of our entire school community. We’ve been collaborating closely with our community partners and our LSC to ensure our budget and the positions we’re opening this year help move that goal forward. 

We also want to address opportunity gaps for our Black and Latinx male students by making sure all students are able to connect with our school and see themselves within our school’s identity. This extends far beyond the curriculum and includes everything from the systems of support we cultivate to our extracurricular opportunities. For example, we have an Esports club that has absolutely exploded in popularity. 

Because, at the end of the day, if a student didn’t feel successful in their four years at Washington, how can we expect them to want to reach postsecondary success? That’s why we’re deliberately building out various pathways—some of which connect to college, others that prepare students for apprenticeships or internships—so students can be better prepared to make an informed decision with their family about what is next for them. 

While no two students will have the same experience at Washington, I want all students to graduate feeling confident in their academic abilities and ready to be active civic participants and leaders in their communities. As a principal, I see myself as a disruptor of the status quo who pushes back on how society is often working against my students.

When you exist in a space of continuous improvement, it means the work is never done, and that is okay. You may have to jump in the pool a few times to better your students, and it may be cold and uncomfortable, but it is well worth it. 

Principal San-Roman first arrived at Washington High School as a Chicago Leadership Collaborative resident. She earned her doctorate in urban education leadership earlier this year. Make sure you are ready for the new school year by visiting cps.edu/b2s.