By AARON GETTINGER
After long fighting criticism of her educational ideals elswehere in teaching and school administration, Nancy Nassr has found a home at Ancona School in Kenwood ,4770 S. Dorchester Ave.
After a year as Interim Head of the school,Nasser has was named Head of the School.
“It’s not just about the final product,” Nassr said of her school. “The idea is to provide children with multiple opportunities to learn, to fall and get back up. And so we’re looking at their growth over time: not saying ‘you’ve arrived,’ but that you’re growing through that.”
Nassr calls Ancona “a progressive school.”
“We’re really committed to the idea that education is about the whole child.” In addition to cognitive development, Nassr said that Ancona is concerned with social and emotional development and utilizes assessment through conferrals—one-on-one or small group discussions. Children aged 3, 4 and 5 have a complete Montessori education, which is “spiraled” through students’ educations through eighth grade. Curriculum often emphasizes social justice themes.
She believes an Ancona education uncommonly prepares students for secondary school success. “If you look at how they fare in high school, our students, by the metrics that a lot of other schools use to measure the success of their students, are doing really well,” Nassr said.
Nassr immigrated with her parents at a young age from Egypt when her father pursued doctoral education at the University of South Carolina. Nassar then studied English education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and later taught middle and high school English literature in Woodlawn and Cabrini–Green. Her favorite books to teach are “Farenheit 451,” saying its parallels with our current time are “pretty eerie,” and the “Autobiography of Malcolm X,” which she said, “really changed my life.”
In an interview with the Herald, Nassr said, “I’ve always been a progressive educator, and I do believe in the idea that quality education should be available to everyone.” Nevertheless, she described her career in public education as “fraught with a number of different challenges.”
“Social justice has always been the underlying tenet for me as an educator, and what I found was that, in some of the communities where I served, the ideas that were being pushed upon students were that they follow a set of rules,” she said. Students were being treated as “receptacles to be filled.” She found disciplinary measures taken against students to be “arcane, racist, exclusionary and fraught.” Her reluctance to suspend or send misbehaving students out of class because of her conviction that children belong in a classroom drew the ire of administration.
While Nassr was able to “do really tremendous things” in her classroom, she said her desire to reform education was arrested by “a system that was so bogged down and so bureaucratic.”
“At a systems level, I felt really disenchanted,” she said. After a period of time at ChicagoQuest Schools, Nassr attended Teachers College at Columbia University in New York for a master’s degree in educational leadership.
Nassr knew about Ancona from time previously spent in Hyde Park, and a friend encouraged her to apply for the Director of Teaching and Learning when it opened in 2016. Spending time with teachers and hearing their thoughts about teaching and students convinced her that Ancona reflected her ideals. “I came and didn’t look back, because there’s so much here happening at Ancona that is exactly what I think needs to happen [in education].” The next year, she was appointed the interim head of school..
Being hired, Nassr said, is “an honor that’s really hard to articulate into words.”