Once a driving force at Accelerate Institute, inspirational educator Dr. Angel Turner has now set her sights on an ambitious new undertaking: playing the lead role in delivering a quality education for approximately 6,500 pre-K through eighth-grade students on Chicago’s North Shore.
In June, Dr. Turner was unanimously approved by the Evanston/Skokie District 65 Board as the district’s interim superintendent. With the 2023-24 school year now underway, what will be the most important factor for Dr. Turner and her team as they work to deliver educational equity for every student at District 65’s 18 schools? In a word, she says: “joy.”
“[We’re] really being thoughtful about, ‘How do we bring joy back to the work?’” Dr. Turner explains. “The biggest premise is making sure that we’re attending to the basic needs of [our] adults so that they can show up and be their absolute best for the children in this district.”
With the wealth of expertise she’s amassed over her 20 years of experience, it’s hard to imagine a more suitable candidate for the top position at District 65 than Dr. Turner, who’s had a lifelong passion for education. “I tell people I was really born to be an educator,” she explains.
“I will commit to every child … [so] they can go anywhere across this globe and be able to compete.”
Prior to stepping up as interim superintendent this summer, the South Side of Chicago native was District 65’s director of literacy from 2021 to 2022 and then assistant superintendent of schools from 2022 to 2023. Dr. Turner, who earned her Doctor of Education from University of Illinois Chicago, first began her career in education as a teacher after obtaining her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Loyola University Chicago.
“In college, I had to fight a little harder, … work a little bit harder to really be able to fit in with my white peers [due to the disparity between the quality of the education we received up until then] — [that] was really eye-opening for me,” she explains. So “I said to myself going into this work, … ‘I will commit to every child … [so] they can go anywhere across this globe and be able to compete with either folks who look like them, or who don’t look like them.’”
In her time as senior director of curriculum and assessment at Accelerate from 2019 to 2021, Dr. Turner influenced thousands of students’ life trajectories as a trusted advisor for 20 school leaders in Chicago, offering invaluable guidance through instructional observation, collaborative problem solving, and garnering feedback from teachers.
“Dr. Turner centers her work on providing opportunities for high-quality education for all students,” says Dr. Catherine Burns, Accelerate’s president and chief academic officer. “She has a really deep understanding of high-performing schools and is a true expert in leading adults.”
By empowering the adults in the buildings at District 65 with the supports they need, Dr. Turner says she is helping to set them up for success in confronting the most pressing academic challenges impacting our nation’s schools right now. One of which, she allows, is this year’s NAEP scores, which remind us of the harsh reality of pandemic-era interrupted learning.
“Coming off of the pandemic, the way we teach children has to be drastically different,” Dr. Turner explains. “We have to really slow down and afford [educators] the opportunity to learn. This work is urgent, … but the reality is, if we don’t slow down and really help educators to get the tools in their toolkit they need, we are perpetuating a system where we will continue to have children not achieving their fullest potential” and a host of other issues.
Dr. Turner shares a welcome message for the 2023-24 school year at Evanston/Skokie District 65
To this end, Dr. Turner says she was especially excited about launching a listening tour during the beginning of the 2023-24 school year at District 65, in which she sought input from educators on what they need in order to thrive in their roles.
“I’m taking the approach of going around to visit all 18 of the schools to just really listen to what the people, boots on the ground, really have to say [about what’s] working well for them and helping them to be successful,” she says. “And then if they had a magic wand and could change any one thing about this district, what would it be?
“I teach adults now, and I like to tell people, ‘Adults are just like kids, you’ve got to reinforce with them, you’ve got to motivate them, and you’ve got to encourage them — I just do it with big people.’”
In playing such a pivotal role supporting others, it’s so important that Dr. Turner has her own support system, too. She describes her mother, children, and husband — who she credits with encouraging her to pursue opportunities in school leadership since her earlier days as a teacher — as tremendous sources of inspiration.
“While I lead adults, the teaching aspect still bleeds deep in my heart because I have to teach, I just teach in a different capacity,” she says. “I teach adults now, and I like to tell people, ‘Adults are just like kids, you’ve got to reinforce with them, you’ve got to motivate them, and you’ve got to encourage them — I just do it with big people.’”
So what words of wisdom would Dr. Turner share with her team members who one day find themselves in leadership roles as well? It all comes back to the joy.
“Enjoy it,” she says. “You only get one time to kind of be in this learner stance and learn all of these things [about being a school leader] and enjoy it. So slow yourself down enough to unpack it, understand it, and ensure that you’re making the right decisions, and always keep kids at the forefront of everything that you do.”