Shaka Rawls ’93 named principal at Leo High School


Reprinted with permission of Beverly Review

One of Leo High School’s own is returning to lead the school that is located in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood and counts many 19th Ward residents as alumni.

Shaka Rawls, a member of the Class of 1993, officially became principal and academic director of the school on July 1.

Rawls, a Woodlawn native, brings 14 years of teaching experience to his alma mater, as well as experience in administering programs to help students who might have academically or socially fallen by the wayside.

He also brings plenty of fond memories and Leo pride.

“I have a nostalgia being in the hallways that I once walked, walking past the old dean’s office, where I was disciplined, and now being able to kind of do the same for other students,” Rawls said. “To be really honest with you, it’s overwhelming—kind of surreal.”

Rawls, 41, takes over a school that experienced attendance issues for many years but stabilized those numbers in recent years under the leadership of Leo President Dan McGrath, a 1968 Leo graduate who was raised in the parish of St. Cajetan Roman Catholic Church in Morgan Park.

Rawls owns a bachelor’s degree in history from Aurora University, as well as a master’s degree in education and instructional leadership from the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC). He is currently studying to earn his doctoral degree fromUIC next spring, when he defends his dissertation on high-risk communities and their impact on efforts to improve schools in Chicago.

Rawls’ professional experience includes teaching at the high school and elementary school level, as well as serving as a school and community administrator for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), where he led curriculum planning for instructional leadership teams at the elementary and high school levels.

He is also the founder of Inspiring and Motivating Positive Actions for City Teens (IMPACT), which he said teaches struggling students about social justice while working with churches and local businesses to provide students with opportunities to get their lives back on track.

When Leo officials offered him the position, Rawls said, he was humbled.

“I felt like it was an honor to be asked,” Rawls said, “and it’s also an honor to be able to serve.”

Rawls has many happy memories from his younger days at Leo. He met his wife, Rukiya Rawls, in front of the school in 1992, and they attended Leo’s prom together in 1993. They have a 7-year-old daughter, Samira.

McGrath said he’s grateful that Rawls is now part of the school administration. After former principal Phil Mesina resigned to become principal at St. John de la Salle Elementary School on the South Side, McGrath’s first call, he said, was to Rawls.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us. He’s an accomplished educator,” McGrath said. “He’s a dynamic, energetic guy. He relates really well to the kids.”

According to McGrath, more than half the school’s faculty consists of Leo alumni, and Rawls joins an institution that produced a 100-percent graduation rate for the eighth year in a row.

Rawls is a “classic Leo guy,” McGrath said, and in his short time back at the school, the new principal has visited with students at camp or other summer activities to start building relationships and boosting confidence.

“He was a ‘Leo man’ himself,” McGrath said, “and he really wants the school to succeed. … His energy is already tangible in the building.”

Rawls said his plans include a “more contemporary curriculum,” adding an honors class and an elective block. One of the new classes will teach students computer programming skills, including hacking skills, although Rawls said the class will be at a basic level and students won’t be able to do anything such as “hacking into the Pentagon.”

Although many Leo students do not live in Beverly/Morgan Park, the neighborhood is known as a bastion of Leo alumni who take an active role in supporting the school.

Rawls hopes more alumni will visit to teach extracurricular classes and provide career advice. In recent years, Leo men have returned to teach subjects such as journalism literacy, and McGrath hopes future “pre-professional” classes will include business and law.

Although Leo must compete for student enrollment with other Catholic, private and charter high schools, Rawls is confident the school will continue to grow, noting it receives financial support from the Big Shoulders Fund, which assists inner-city children attending Catholic schools.

Leo students are obviously willing to work hard to achieve their goals and those of their educators because the school day is longer than that of other schools.Shaka Rawls

Rawls feels Leo High School is an example of “a successful urban Catholic school.”

“We provide a safe haven for students.”

More articles about Mr. Rawls return to Leo can be found here, at the end of the article.

The Alumni is very proud to have one of Leo’s own at the helm, and wish Mr. Rawls the greatest success, and all of it’s support.

Go Lions!!

Principal Rawls calls Leo “Safe Space” for students


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