What started as a Black principal knocking on doors in her school’s predominantly white, blue-collar neighborhood is now a nationally recognized school-community partnership. Of 100 Chicago principals who were nominated for the MetLife Foundation’s Ambass

That put her in the exclusive company of 24 other principals from across the country who received the award. The award honors principals who build strong community partnerships. Tilden, with a 60 percent Black, 32 percent Hispanic, 5 percent white, 1 percent Asian and 98 percent low-income student body, sits in a predominantly white neighborhood.

“Our Black students come from Englewood… Hispanics are coming from west of Racine [Ave.] Then you have the Asian student body coming from the [South Loop],” Hammond said. “So you have a melting pot.” When she arrived at Tilden in 2001, Hammond said that the school was in decline. Once a premier all-boys school, attendance boundaries were redrawn, and new kids were coming from outside the neighborhood to attend.

With the new students came violence, and in 1992 a Tilden student was killed after being shot by a classmate. Community relations were still strained when Hammond arrived. “We told our kids, you can’t buy into being called the ‘n’ word just because of ignorance. But to the neighbors I said, ‘You can’t go around calling my kids the ‘n’ word either.

“It was knocking on doors saying, ‘Hi, how are you?,’ and getting one person at a time to understand.” Those front door conversations became bridges into the community. Tilden’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps began cleaning up lots in the neighborhood and doing presentations at local elementary schools.

Neighborhood nail shops, grocery stores and pizza parlors allowed Tilden students to print business cards and stationery for them, in exchange for store discounts. Health science students began shadowing doctors and nurses at local hospitals. In 2007, all of Tilden’s 125 graduates had completed an internship%uFFFD several with community establishments. “It works for us because our kids needed the exposure, but the neighborhood needed the exposure of knowing that all teenagers are not bad,” Hammond said.

“There was a coming together of the minds. Bottom line, we were in this together… You must give these kids a quality education, or they’re going to live right next door to you, and become your worst nightmare.” Despite marked decreases in school violence, and an increase in college matriculation (from 35 to 50 percent since Hammond arrived), Tilden’s test scores remain low. According to CPS data, the school is currently on academic probation, and students are not making adequate yearly progress in reading and math.

“I’m fighting culture, I’m fighting a lack of self-esteem, I’m fighting parental controls, I’m fighting the streets. But if you were to question the kids, they’ll tell you, ‘I feel safe here. I know I’m learning, and my principal has my back,’” Hammond said. With the MetLife Foundation’s Ambassador in Education recognition, Hammond’s school also receives a $5,000 grant to continue its community-building efforts.

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