Working on Wall Street in the demanding world of high finance is not the usual path to becoming a teacher in low-income, high-need urban schools. But it sure worked for Carrie Ohannes, who received one of the 2017 Outstanding Beginning Teacher Awards from the Illinois Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
Ohannes, who completed her NLU Master of Arts in Teaching in 2014, has racked up a list of accomplishments in her three years teaching middle-grades English and Language Arts at Dvorak School of Excellence on Chicago’s West Side. One such accomplishment is that over two years, 90% of her students improved their NWEA scores.
Before the teaching, however, Ohannes had a 15-year career in investments and banking, at one point rising to vice-president at one of the nation’s largest banks. She left that sector in 2009.
“As time went on, I wasn’t fulfilled making wealthy people wealthier,” she said.
When she leapt into the education world, she landed at the Chicago Public Schools handling money in the grants management department. The work brought her into contact with turnaround schools, and she realized the importance of strong leadership in transforming a struggling school into a viable one. She got the itch to do just that.
“But first, you have to teach,” she said.
She enrolled in the NLU/AUSL Chicago Teacher Residency, an intensive 12-month program in which NLU partners with the Academy for Urban School Leadership. In the program, NLU faculty act as mentors to the students, who do practice teaching from Mondays through Thursdays. On Fridays, the students attend NLU classes.
“I was aware NLU was one of the best teaching schools in Chicago, so it was an easy decision to make,” Ohannes said. “I looked at other programs, and AUSL/NLU was the best opportunity. The coursework was amazing.”
Janet Lorch, Assistant Professor and Coordinator for the NLU/AUSL program, and Sunshine Kapp, adjunct professor, guided and mentored her through that intense first year of teaching at Johnson School of Excellence in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood.
“The year Carrie spent at Johnson was a tough one, yet she never gave up and constantly challenged her practice,” said Lorch, who was Ohannes’ year-round seminar instructor in the residency program and her on-site supervisor at Johnson.
Then Ohannes was hired at Dvorak, a 99 percent African-American and 99 percent Title 1 school located in the same area.
“She’s quite amazing,” said Lorch. “She told me she wanted to make a difference on a higher level, and she is.”
Lorch will present Ohannes with the IACTE Outstanding Beginning Teacher Award on June 12 at NLU. IACTE presented the awards in Springfield, but Ohannes could not attend due to an illness in the family. Lorch accepted on her behalf, and will formally present the award at the Student Awards Ceremony.
Ohannes realized she originally followed her father’s career, business, and came around later to the career of her mother, who had been a teacher.
“I love teaching,” she said. “These children are your own children.
“I think I became a teacher at the right point. I bring something more because I’m older.”
Becoming reflective, she mused, “There’s so much urgency around money and banking. The urgency around children should be more intense than around money.”
At Dvorak, she arrives between 6 and 6:30 most days, and often leaves between 6 and 9 p.m., as well as working 10 to 15 hours on weekends.
That effort may have led to the significant accomplishments she has achieved. Lorch listed them when she nominated Ohannes for the IACTE award, saying her accomplishments rival those of a teacher with three or more times her experience. They include:
- Carrie is the lead teacher for Dvorak’s Middle School. She created and implemented a middle school plan, which includes an On-track assembly for grades 6-8.
- Carrie is a member of the Dvorak Instructional Leadership Team, a Success Project College and Career Reading Coordinator, the LSC (Local School Council) Election Coordinator and an elected member of the Local School Council.
- She was appointed to the Assistant Principal/Adult Leadership program by her principal.
- Carrie is a strong advocate for her students. She advocated for and brought Blackstar Mentoring program to school for middle school grades 6-8.
- She organized the first North Lawndale Cluster High School Fair with over 20 high schools for grades 6-7 at four elementary schools.
- She organized transportation for, and accompanied, 8th grade students to selective enrollment tests.
- She applied for and received several grants in the past three years, including the Chicago Foundation for Education grant, and numerous DonorsChoose grants including a Chromebook cart and 30 Chromebooks.
- She coordinated a Book Drive, collecting more than 5,000 books for Dvorak classrooms, and a coat and warm weather drive with Lake Forest High School student council.
- Carrie was a recipient of 100 backpacks with school supplies for students this year.
Not one to stand still for long, Ohannes plans to pursue an Ed.D. in Urban Educational Leadership.
“My vision is to become a principal, a school leader,” she said. “I want to create an environment where there are educators who feel supported and can come to school and do their best for kids.”