Hefferan Assistant Principal Shares Her Journey as an Educator
SCHOOLS | April 4, 2022
Hefferan Assistant Principal Shares Her Journey as an Educator

Miss Consuelo Gaines, the assistant principal of Hefferan Elementary School in West Garfield Park, has 18 younger siblings. So, it’s no surprise that she’s excelled as both an educator and in her first year of being a school leader. 

A Chicago native, she notes that education was the foundation of her upbringing. Trips to the library with her mom were routine. At the same time, her family often moved between different communities in the city, giving her a unique perspective of some of the challenges her students experience on the West Side. 

“The primary grades were this momentous time where I was thinking a lot about what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she said. “Because of my family’s focus on education, the person standing in front of the class seemed so awesome to me. My first thought was that I wanted to become a teacher, and it kind of stuck and never went away.” 

She was so enthusiastic that her teachers would let her take home leftover classroom materials at the end of the school year. Fast forward quite a while, and now she has nearly 30 years of experience in education herself. 

Her focus has mainly been on the primary grades, especially kindergarten. She explains that teaching younger students became her niche because of the physical energy, rather than emotional energy, needed to meet them where they are. 

While she received her administrative certificate years ago, she stayed put in the classroom. Instead of becoming an assistant principal, she displayed her leadership skills as a teacher leader and member of instructional leadership teams. 

“I live in the communities that I serve, and that’s on purpose to ensure that I have a pulse of where our students come from to help them broaden their horizons,” she said. “No matter where a student comes from, it’s important to me that their needs are met so they can get the best high-quality education.”

When the opportunity to become an assistant principal was presented to her almost a year ago, she initially declined. But, as she reflected on her career path more, she concluded that it was the right time to serve students in a new way. 

“When I got my administrative certificate so many years ago, I thought long and hard about the type of school that I would want to lead,” she said. “Hefferan checked all the boxes, from the number of students enrolled to the neighborhood it served to the cohesive staff, I didn’t really have any excuses not to go for it.” 

Now that she’s more than halfway through her first year as an administrator, her point of view on what it takes to lead a school successfully has changed​​—but it also hasn’t. While the qualities she thought she would need, such as being courageous, a problem solver, and solutions-oriented, are part of her job on a daily basis, she also admits that supporting an entire community is a big step up from supporting a single classroom. 

“The lens that you have becomes wider and it puts more weight—and wait—on your shoulders, because you start thinking long-term and asking yourself how the decisions you make are going to impact your students and your community years down the line,” she said. “It makes for long and full days, much longer and fuller than they were before, but it also makes the joy of the journey and the work even greater as well.” 

She also finds joy in the fact that Hefferan is an extremely family-oriented school, with generation after generation of students attending the same school that their parents or other relatives attended. Thus, she feels that her responsibilities as an assistant principal are rooted in sparking a love of learning in her students, the same spark that she knows she felt as a CPS student herself. 

“I was excited to be in school, and I enjoyed it because it was so engaging and challenged both my thinking and my social skills,” she said. “I want to see that for every student in our District. I want to help them to get to that place so that they can be successful, not just in academics, but in all of the gifts and talents that are inside of them.”