One City Charter School New
Leadership for a New Era
Faren D’Abell, One City’s principal, is a former journalist who was
smitten with the education bug while working with young men in
detention.
were taking our classes and talking about the teaching that we actually did that day. I think it was better than any traditional education program. We got to put our
theory into practice the next day.”

D’Abell helped establish the Frazier International Magnet School.

“We were in the bottom half when we started,” D’Abell said. “And in three years, we were in the top 20 percent. And we also were Chicago’s first 90-90-90 school,
90 percent minority students, 90 percent low-income and 90 percent meeting or exceeding state standards. After that, we also became Chicago’s first non-selective
national blue-ribbon school.”

A Detroit school recruited D’Abell away from Chicago, but after two years, D’Abell experienced kidney failure and switched to part-time teaching and educational
consulting and was a lecturer at Purdue University.

D’Abell eventually received a kidney transplant, got his energy back and then the One City opportunity came along. D’Abell felt it was a perfect fit with his
experience. He applied and was hired. Although his official start date was June 22nd, D’Abell jumped into the role on June 12th. There was much work to be done.

What will make One City work, in D’Abell’s view, is staff buy-in to One City’s mission and values.
By Jonathan Gramling

Since he came on board as One City’s new principal on June 12th, Faren D’Abell has
been in the thick of it getting the pre-school and 5k-2nd grade programs prepared for the
fall 2020 semester in the COVID-19 era.

D’Abell had been broadcast journalist for the beginning of his professional career,
working as an NPR affiliate newscaster and anchor before embarking on a syndicated
radio show. Near the end of syndication, D’Abell volunteered at a juvenile detention
center putting together a six-week curriculum on telling your story through radio. D’Abell
was smitten with the education bug and switched careers.

D’Abell applied to the Academy for Urban School Leadership at the National Louis
University.

“It was taking mid-career professionals and training them to work in the toughest urban
school in Chicago,” D’Abell said. “I applied for that. I think it had a five percent
acceptance rate and was accepted. I got certified and then I went through a couple of
different very challenging Chicago public schools. We were basically student teachers
for 10-11 months. During the day, we were actually teaching. And during the evening, we
“When we started Frazier International Magnet School, we knew what we
were going to be, an international baccalaureate school,” D’Abell said. “When
we hired
people, we made sure that the skills were there and also that they
understood what the commitment was going to be. Often times if you come into
a new school that needs to be turned around — I was a teacher at Chicago’s
first turnaround school Sherman Elementary — it is very challenging. I learned
quite a bit when I was there. I learned what not to do as an administrator from
that experience. But the students and the families weren’t happy with us and
so the staff was not happy. And there wasn’t great communication between
staff and administration. And so, it didn’t go well. Having staff that buys into
what you are actually doing is important, having staff who are actually part of
some of those decisions and having staff who are committed to the goal is the
biggest thing.”

What also makes the school work is that it is student-driven.

“We definitely want student-led learning,” D’Abell said. “There are a couple of
different things that are very student focused. One is that we would do student-
led conferences. We have portfolios. One City started that last year. We’re
going to hone that a little bit more this year. With virtual, it might be a little bit
challenging for those students who are virtual. But the student portfolios help
students choose the learning that they are most proud of. And so when they
have a conference with their family and the teacher, the student is leading
that. And the student is explaining why they are proud of this or what they
needed to work on and what their goals are for the next quarter or trimester for
us. From the learning standpoint, we do certainly student interest surveys at
the beginning of the year to find out what their particular interests are. But
inquiry-based learning is going to look at what the tangential learning
opportunities are from our main theme. We have modules. One of the modules
for first grade is about tools. With tools generically. We might think of a
hammer or a saw. But we want to take them further. We’re hoping that
students will come on their own and be able to talk about tools like mental
tools or those that they have for self-regulation or a pencil like a tool. We’ll
give some guidance in coming up with some of those that they don’t come up
with. But that’s the kind of thinking that we are trying to get them to do every
day, even outside of school.”

One City has continued to grow over the years as it now has preschool
programs and a 5k-2nd grade program with 101 students that will continue to
expand has the students matriculate out of each elementary grade. In order to
meet the needs of the expanding student population, the preschool will remain
at the Fisher Street location and the program just signed a lease to hold its
elementary school at 450 Coyer Lane.

Next issue: In-person instruction during COVID-19 preparations