From kindergarten onward, Tawanda Lawrence (EdD ’14) arrived at school ready to learn. “My parents are not college graduates, but I was always told that getting an education was one of the most important things I could achieve in life,” she says. Now, as the assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and technology at Country Club Hills (Ill.) School District 160, Lawrence has more than met her parents’ expectations.
Lawrence oversees three schools that together serve approximately 1,300 students. Ninety-five percent of the students are black, and 85 percent of the population qualifies as low-income. “My primary goal is to provide a quality education in our schools,” she says. “It’s my department’s role to offer teachers and administrators the tools they need to ensure there’s effective instruction occurring in every classroom and that the curriculum we implement meets the needs of all students.” This overall objective keeps Lawrence on the move 10 to 12 hours a day.
Lawrence’s responsibilities are many and varied. She ensures that all curricula are aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards, which includes creating curriculum maps, selecting textbooks and overseeing 10 subject-area committees. Lawrence also conducts pilot programs for new materials, organizes professional development training for staff, leads assessments and manages federal grants. “We strive to implement multitiered levels of support for students, including addressing their social and emotional needs,” she notes.
For her doctoral thesis, Lawrence researched black middle school students who were academically successful despite having economically disadvantaged backgrounds. “I was blessed that my parents were able to expose me to so many different experiences growing up, but I wonder if I would be where I am today if I hadn’t received those resources,” she explains.
Lawrence acknowledges that hers is a big undertaking. “Thankfully, I’m very passionate about the work that I do,” she says. “It really brings me joy to collaborate to make a difference in the lives of children.”
“Our district has a lot of strengths, including our high percentage of returning teachers. We have a strong teachers union that works closely with administration to achieve our mutual goals.”