SCHOOLS | August 23, 2021
Mr. Carlos Borges will never forget his first ‘F.’ He had gotten perfect grades in elementary school, rising to the top of his class and even getting admitted to one of the district’s selective high schools. But, reflecting on his academic experiences now, he explains that he entered high school extremely far behind the other students because his curriculum had not adequately challenged or prepared him.
“Even though I was an ‘A’ student in elementary school, I wasn’t being given grade-level work, so I ended up needing summer school to be able to catch up to my peers,” he said. “That’s when my goal became to be a teacher at a school in my neighborhood to give kids like me what they needed to be able to hold their own academically.”
He would go on to teach at Chase Elementary School, less than a mile from where he grew up, for 19 years. When he first joined the school fresh out of college, he describes it as “being run like a Chuck E. Cheese” where learning was not taken seriously. A combination of hard work from the staff and excellent school leadership chipped away at that reputation year after year, and the school started to see some impressive outcomes.
Mr. Borges recalls an evening when he was out in the neighborhood getting ice cream with his family. He heard someone calling his name as he passed by a laundromat and realized it was a former student. This was a student who entered his fifth-grade math class certain that she didn’t like math because she wasn’t good at it; she told him that night that she was headed to the University of Michigan on a full-ride scholarship to study math.
“If this story had happened earlier in my career, it would have been really surprising to me,” he said. “But I’ve come to know that when you have a staff who truly believe that kids can learn, even if they come from rough situations, then you can accomplish some amazing things.”
Another year, he had a student who joined his eighth-grade class directly from Mexico and did not speak any English. The student confided in Mr. Borges that he knew he was smart but was feeling extremely insecure and inept in the classroom because he didn’t know the language. So, Mr. Borges brought in a guest speaker: a friend of his who had entered CPS in high school directly from Mexico without any grasp of English and became a successful businessman. By the 30th week of school, that student was at the top of his class and now works as a chemical engineer.
Four years ago, Mr. Borges decided that it was time to take a big leap in his career—without going too far. He joined Network 4—which is comprised of approximately 30 elementary schools, including Chase—as an instructional support leader. He describes this role as working directly with teachers and administrators as an expert in math and science curriculum and instruction. He also leads parent trainings to ensure that parents feel confident supporting their children academically and has even been a guest speaker himself to motivate students who come from a similar background as himself.
Mr. Borges will never forget his first ‘F.’ It was in algebra. And now, he is helping shape math instruction in Chicago so every student can reach their full potential. He says that he’s excited for students to return to school this year and will be focused on helping schools analyze data to accelerate learning and focus on what will directly lead to improved student outcomes.
“If each kid is getting grade-level material that challenges them in healthy and productive ways, we are one step closer to creating true equity in our system,” he said. “I want to show the kids that there’s room for people like us who grew up in really crazy situations to be role models and play a part in supporting the future.”
The first day of school—Monday, August 30—is just a few days away! Visit cps.edu/b2s for the resources you need for a successful start to the school year.