LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Karen Valentine

Position: Principal
School: Edison Regional Gifted Center
School District: Chicago Public Schools
City, State: Chicago, IL

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Karen Valentine was nominated by her colleague, Nora Dandurand.

Over the years, Ms. Valentine and Ms. Dandurand have worked together at two different schools. Dandurand has observed how Ms. Valentine leads the way to positive change in school culture, student performance, and teacher commitment.

"I have seen Karen make the spark come alive in reluctant learners," Dandurand said. "Her ability to lead with her heart and guide others with her core values at the forefront is truly life-changing."

They first met at a school where Dandurand was a preservice teacher, and Ms. Valentine stepped in as the interim principal. She stepped into the position with a vision and involved all stakeholders in the building to realize that vision.

"I remember feeling so grateful and surprised that she would take the time to work through a unit plan with a lowly student teacher," Dandurand said. "It was in that meeting that Karen changed my life by challenging my thinking through meaningful feedback. She told me she liked the unit, but then asked 'what is this in service of?' All things considered, I had designed a fun and creative unit, but my objectives were lacking. That was a hard pill to swallow, but that moment taught me many things that I would refer back to throughout my teaching career."

That conversation taught Dandurand that all stakeholders in a school truly matter. Whether they're custodial staff, preschoolers, or preservice teachers, all individuals deserve mentorship and guidance from the principal. That conversation taught her the importance of meaningful feedback, even when it might not feel so great at the time.

"It taught me that all learning activities need a clear and purposeful objective," Dandurand said. "Moving forward, I would always know and clearly define what my lesson was in service of. Above all, that conversation taught me what it looked like to lead a school with grace and purpose in a way that would best serve the students and staff in the building."

Ms. Valentine and Dandurand have come a long way since their first curriculum planning session. Since then, Ms. Valentine has mentored Dandurand through the interview process and even through her time at another school. Now, they work beside each other at their current school. Dandurand attributes most of her teaching philosophy to Ms. Valentine's leadership and mentoring.

"I am grateful to watch Karen inspire others the way she inspired me all those years ago," Dandurand said. "I see the joy she brings to students from Kindergarten to eighth grade, the pride instilled in veteran teachers as they dominate a new teaching practice, and the overall culture she creates as the leader of a school where students love to learn and teachers love to work. Karen is a LifeChanger for all who have the pleasure of learning in partnership with her."