“People keep saying there’s no school in the 5th ward. “But we’re here.”
That’s what Tamara Hadaway said yesterday when we reconnected to talk about Kingsway Preparatory School, the one-room, pre-K-to-5th-grade school she founded in August 2015 and the GoFundMe she started recently to help grow the school from 18 children to 100.
“We want to change the stories that come out of our community. We really need to be better at getting our story out,” she said, laughing--but serious.
I first met Hadaway when I visited Kingsway in April 2016, just a few months after it opened.
The school is located at Family Focus Evanston at 2010 Dewey, the historic building that used to house Foster School, the only Black school in Evanston before desegregation.
I remember walking into a bright, airy, joyful, colorful classroom bathed in soft music, with students dressed in khakis or blue pants and light-blue polo shirts engaged in a variety of activities.
Kingsway, named for the school Hadaway attended as a young girl growing up in Jamaica, provides culturally relevant learning to its predominantly Black students. It leans on Christian principles (though students don’t have to be Christian or practice a religion to attend) such as charity and empathy, Hadaway says, to guide the children toward making a world that’s more hospitable and charitable to everyone.
It also holds sacred the partnership between home and school.
The immediate motivation for Hadaway to take the bold step and open a school was a request by Evanston parents who respected her leadership in education and spirituality and whose children had attended school at Faith Temple Evanston, but which had closed.
They wanted a school that celebrated and centered Blackness.
But Hadaway was also personally driven to open the school because of her experiences as a young girl who came to Chicago from Jamaica, her later experiences teaching at Kenwood Academy and several elementary schools--backed up by statistics--and what she sees as District 65's struggle to adequately support Evanston’s Black children and families.
“Study after study shows Black children fail in schools much more frequently than their white counterparts,” Hadaway said.
“We can’t cure all of society’s ills, but we can ensure that our students have a strong foundation on which to build. I think the focus on learning is only the beginning. Social learning is also important. It's an area that's often taken for granted.”
Hadaway said that many schools can’t provide this type of guidance.
“They are bound by standardized testing, overwhelmed teachers, overcrowded classrooms, and many of the other challenges that public schools face,” she said. “We are a good alternative because we don't have these issues. I'm not trying to knock district 65 at all. But the numbers say what they do. District 65 is not serving our community.”
Hadaway believes strongly that it’s crucial for Blackness, Black experiences, and Black history to be taught to all students.
“The history of children in the Black community is excluded from the standard curriculum in public schools and that omission doesn’t benefit anyone, Black or otherwise,” she explained.
“Offering a broader perspective to anyone who comes through our doors is part of our effort to effect real change. When a substantial part of history is excluded, people are bound to repeat mistakes.”
Growing up in Jamaica, Hadaway said she was never aware of being Black, or at least that someone would look at her as less for it.
“In Jamaica, everyone was Black. Our highest officials, our police force, our role models, leaders, and peers. Blackness was the norm; nothing about it stood out. I was just me,” she said. “But when we moved here, suddenly I discovered that I was Black. Here, I was told that I had a place and I needed to stay in it.”
At Kenwood, Hadaway said she became aware of some of the struggles Black students encountered and determined that the problems they were experiencing happened early on.
“They went unaddressed for years and finally, when the students reached high school, the issues culminated in an inability to read and write at appropriate levels,” she said.
“I decided my knowledge and experience would be put to better use heading off the students’ academic issues instead of trying to correct them later.”
Evanston resident Liz Rolewicz and her husband Pete chose to send their son Theo to Kingsway.
“Black joy and Black excellence are both exemplified and explicitly taught there,” said Rolewicz, “And as the only school in the 5th ward, Kingsway provides an invaluable educational experience for Black children.”
Rolewicz, who sits on the Evanston Township High School (ETHS) Board, says Theo found his identity at Kingsway.
“I had never seen him grow so much than during his time at Kingsway, where he developed confidence, self-love, and love for his community,” she said.
Michael Stewart, a Kingsway founding Board member who is responsible for curriculum development and who received a Golden Apple award for teaching last year, emphasizes the need for culturally relevant teaching.
“We believe strongly that our children can learn. We know our kids are capable. Our focus is on early childhood education, getting our kids ready for school,” Stewart said in a recent interview with Tosha Wilson of Boosting Black Business (BBB), a website and Facebook group Wilson founded that asks followers to contribute to a different emerging Black business each month. This month's feature is Kingsway..
“There are enough statistics out there about the learning gap, specifically around vocabulary,” Steward told Wilson. “We’re trying to reconcile the fact that our kids are so verbose, but they struggle with language inefficiency in school. Most of Evanston schools are doing very well, but that’s not translating to our black and brown kids. Again it’s going back to the idea of culturally relevant teaching. We respond to their uniqueness.”
And, Hadaway told me, Kingsway’s system works.
“We're seeing the difference in our students. We’re getting that feedback, where their current teachers are saying, ‘Wow, you are really prepared.’ Even those who left us in pre-K and went on to kindergarten,” Hadaway said. “And we've had students who have left us after pre-K, who were supposed to be in kindergarten but ended up in first grade after they did assessments.”
Hadaway hopes the community will see Kingsway’s value in the 5th ward and support its GoFundMe, which has started off surprisingly slowly.
“We definitely have people who say ‘We believe in you,’ and that verbal support is great and definitely keeps us moving,” she said.
“But we would like to have some of that financial support because the work we do--we recognize the importance of it. There's so much I want for Kingsway, its students, its families, its staff. But money is needed to make things happen."
Please watch BBB's outstanding short video interview with Tamara Hadaway, Michael Stewart, teacher and founding member Tracie Brown, parents, and Kingsway students themselves.
Then support Kingsway and its mission.