When Conrad Timbers-Ausar was a student in Chicago Public Schools, “the trajectory [he] was on was not where he wanted to end up.” He attended three different high schools within four years and was getting into trouble. Like most families in his neighborhood, Timber-Ausar, his mom, and his five younger siblings struggled with poverty. At 16, he added the responsibility of fatherhood.
To turn his life around, he says, he “had to start focusing on the future, instead of the present.” He listened to his educator-mother, who taught him that “when you don’t see immediate results, you have to have faith and believe in yourself.”
Timbers-Ausar cut off friends who weren’t good for him; stopped cold his bad behavior. He went to college. Today, as principal of the Urban Prep Academies Bronzeville Campus, Timbers-Ausar leads hundreds of young men towards the same goal.
When did you decide you wanted to become an educator?
I had never planned on becoming an educator. When I started at DePaul University, I planned on majoring in chemistry. But I found myself in my dorm room one night with a group of friends discussing the lack of Black male educators in schools. That’s when it hit me. I could either talk about it or do something. I changed my major and the rest is history.
What do you see as the mission and vision of Urban Prep and what does it mean to you?
The mission is providing a quality education for young men in urban areas who are traditionally underserved. That mission gets me at my core because a while back I saw a University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research study from 2006 that showed only 3 percent of Black and Latino boys who are freshman in CPS graduate from college by the time they are 25 years old. I tested it in my own experience. I went through a list of my own male friends and family members. It was dead on. It really hit me. This does matter. Preparing young men for the next step is crucial. Urban Prep is doing just that. I want to put my stamp on the success of young men moving forward. I want to improve their trajectory and their children and grandchildren’s trajectories.
What moments have really driven home for you that this work matters?
100 percent of our students are going to college. That matters. Being able to celebrate that accomplishment with them and their families means a lot. When we are shaking hands, hugging, and parents and students are crying, it’s an amazing feeling. It drives home for me that the work I’m doing makes a difference.
On a more personal level, I have an open-door policy. One-on-one interactions are huge for me, like when students ask for my advice and opinion and I’m able to share my own experiences.
Why do you think it matters that you share your own experiences with your students?
I think it matters that I’ve had similar experiences to my students. Like, you take the Red Line, I took the Red Line. It makes a world of difference when you are trying to guide them. Living in Chicago for most of my life, I understand the complexity of the city and how to navigate it. How diverse, complex, unique, and segregated it is. I understand the nature of gangs and the fact that you can be on one block that is full of poverty and two blocks north has million dollar homes.
I can tell my students who want to give up, “You are way ahead of me. When I was your age, I already had a son. I was dealing with this and that. I was on my third school.” They look at me like, “But you’re the principal!” I reassure them, “You’re doing great.” I support them and make sure they have what they need to continue. It’s like a big family here at Urban Prep. We go the extra mile.
What is Urban Prep’s recipe for success?
Urban Prep has some of the most dedicated and committed staff members. That makes all the difference. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. Our college counselors are the best I’ve ever seen in my years as an educator. And it is really about belief. The students believe. The expectation is college. I remember being asked if I was going to college when I was young, and I said, “I don’t know.” It’s not a question here; it’s an expectation. It starts from convocation all the way to graduation. That’s the secret sauce: dedicated staff, belief, and high expectations.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
Over the years, watching students that I have served grow from high school freshman to college graduates is incredible. To see those students become successful young adults is the greatest feeling in the world. Doing what I am supposed to do; serving my community. That’s my greatest professional achievement.
Education Post (educationpost.org) is a nonprofit, non-partisan communications organization dedicated to building support for student-focused improvements in public education.