SCHOOLS | April 8, 2022
During Assistant Principal Appreciation Week, Ms. Rosa Hernandez, the assistant principal at Kinzie Elementary School in Garfield Ridge, has been dwelling on this quote: “A great assistant principal builds character, inspires dreams, encourages creativity, builds confidence, instills a love of learning, touches hearts and changes lives forever.”
These qualities are what inspired AP Hernandez to change her major in college from accounting to education and never look back. When it comes to the debate on if teaching is a calling or a profession, she explains that she sees both sides, but, for her, it was a calling—one that she has felt since she was a young child.
After immigrating from Mexico at the age of three, AP Hernandez grew up in Chicago alongside her seven siblings. She attended several CPS schools, including Spry Community School, McCormick Elementary School, and Curie High School.
One of the threads that has been a constant throughout her career in CPS has been her relationship with Ms. Dawn Caetta, Kinzie’s principal, who she has known for more than 20 years. The two of them have worked together at Kinzie for almost a decade.
“Being on the same page with your principal and making sure that you can tell each other everything and are honest with each other is one of the most important parts of the job,” she said. “We have a great system where she gets to school early and I stay late, and I always know that she is going to give me the most help.”
Principal Caetta and AP Hernandez have created a workplace culture at Kinzie rooted in classroom observations and providing consistent feedback for their teachers and staff. AP Hernandez describes her daily routine as not being confined to an office—she’s constantly walking the hallways and popping into classrooms to see teaching and learning taking place. Right now, she’s especially focused on student engagement.
“We’re making sure to talk with our students while they’re in the classroom so they can explain what they are learning. Especially with our IB students, we want them to be making connections to the world around them,” she said. “By building these relationships, our kids know that they can come to us for anything.”
Another way AP Hernandez connects with her students is by being a resource for them academically. If a student needs to be tutored, she always puts aside her other work to put the student’s needs first. She tutors both during lunch and after school. She notes that having the past several school years disrupted by the pandemic has only increased the importance of supporting students.
“When we were analyzing our students’ needs, we were especially concerned about our primary students because they didn’t have the opportunity to interact socially with each other while learning from home,” she said. “That’s why we’re very focused on the social-emotional side of education, and that makes our classroom check-ins even more essential.”
She compares her career to a rollercoaster and says that her role as an assistant principal changes hour by hour. In the morning, she might be working more as a scheduler to ensure that each classroom has adequate staffing. In the afternoon, she could be acting more as a disciplinarian and helping students work through an issue on social media.
Despite the unpredictability of her role, AP Hernandez loves being at Kinzie and doesn’t think she would do anything differently in her past nine years at the school. The parents, teachers, and, above all, the students make everything worth it.
“My favorite memories are the kids. It’s always the kids,” she said. “They are always the number one thing. If they are happy and they are learning, that shows that we are doing something right.”