Tanika Island Childress named CEO of the UChicago Charter School

Tanika Island Childress, a nationally distinguished educator and veteran leader at the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, has been named CEO of the University of Chicago Charter School.

Island Childress will apply her wide-ranging expertise from more than two decades of teaching and leading to continuing the development of UChicago Charter as a model for fostering greater equity and excellence in urban education.

The appointment builds on Island Childress’s 16-year career at the Urban Education Institute, where she most recently served as director of the UChicago Urban Teacher Education Program. Earlier in her career, Island Childress served as the UChicago Charter School’s chief academic officer and director of the UChicago Charter North Kenwood/Oakland Campus, one of the highest-performing non-selective elementary schools in the city of Chicago.

During her tenure as director of the North Kenwood/Oakland Campus, Island Childress was recognized with a Community School Leadership Award in 2012 from the Federation of Community Schools and a Principal Achievement Award from the city of Chicago in 2013. She also has been recognized as a national leader in non-cognitive and academic development, serving as a member of the Aspen Institute’s Council of Distinguished Educators on Social, Emotional and Academic Development.

“I have big ambitions for UChicago Charter School students, which begin and end with my belief in their ability to learn, grow and succeed,” Island Childress said. “I hope to change the lives of many Chicago students by building on the UChicago Charter School’s strong culture of belief in students’ capabilities, and tradition of teacher learning and accountability grounded in research and data.”

Prior to joining UEI, Island Childress was an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University’s Teaching Practicum and Field Experience Seminar. From 1997 to 2001, Island Childress was also the fourth-grade team leader for the Martin L. King Experimental Laboratory School in Evanston, Ill., where she took on the roles of Language Arts District Representative, School Literacy Committee member, Teachers as Readers Committee member and Sisterhood Project mentor. 

“We are so fortunate to have Tanika’s depth of expertise at the helm of UChicago Charter School,” said Sian Beilock, executive vice provost of the University of Chicago and UChicago Charter School interim governing board chair. “Her vision, commitment and compassion will ensure we continue to help students across the South Side of Chicago realize their potential and achieve their goals, in school and in life.”

Island Childress’s appointment is part of UEI’s ambitious plan to improve schooling nationwide by conducting rigorous applied research, training exemplary teachers, operating a high-achieving public school, and designing school improvement tools and training for thousands of schools and classrooms across the United States.

The PreK-12 UChicago Charter School is designed to cultivate culturally aware critical thinkers and leaders, and prepare all of its students for college acceptance and graduation.

Its elementary model was recently the subject of a multi-year study that showed UChicago Charter is effectively addressing educational inequality and closing the achievement gap that has persisted between students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. The study’s findings were published this year in the book The Ambitious Elementary School. UChicago Charter’s Woodlawn campus received a Level 1 school quality rating from the Chicago Public Schools district last year and will open a new high school facility next year with state-of-the-art engineering science labs, a media arts space and a college resource center.

Island Childress has been serving as the interim CEO of the UChicago Charter School since February and will continue developing UChicago Charter as a model of excellence in fostering high school achievement, college attainment and young adult success.

“Tanika brings a unique lens and extremely rare combination of experiences to her new role,” said Sara Ray Stoelinga, the Sara Liston Spurlark Director of UEI. “As the former director of UChicago’s Urban Teacher Education Program, she has deep expertise in what it takes to train and retain high quality teachers within some of the nation’s most distressed communities and challenging classroom environments. She also has a wealth of experience in working directly with UChicago Charter School leaders, teachers, students and families. She is a highly respected and visionary leader who has changed—and will continue to change—students’ educational and life trajectories for the better.”

Island Childress received her bachelor’s degree in education with a concentration in psychology from National Louis University in Chicago. She also earned a master’s degree in literacy education from Loyola University and received a leadership fellowship through the Urban Education Institute.