Most of us feel pressure to conform to the people around us throughout our lives. For some of us, this feeling can be compounded by a lack of acceptance from others.
For Timothy R. Faust, a participant in Accelerate Institute’s Leadership Bridge program, the pressure to conform was foundational. “As a Black gay man in Chicago, there were very few spaces that affirmed my identity,” says Faust. “[I was] constantly being told that my authentic self was flawed.”
Now serving as assistant principal at Chicago Academy High School, Faust says he was well into adulthood before he felt confident being himself without reservations. Today, these early experiences inform Faust’s work as a leader.
Backed by a bachelor’s degree in special education and teaching from Ohio State University, a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Arizona State University, a master’s in educational leadership from Concordia University, and an in-progress doctoral degree from DePaul University, Faust has continued to invest in his leadership skills — and he takes his efforts to cultivate a welcoming environment at Chicago Academy just as seriously.
I am convinced that had I been afforded the freedom to shine my brightest, I would have experienced a profound sense of happiness.
That’s why, as we celebrate Pride 2023 — and as Faust moves into his fourth year at Chicago Academy — he finds himself looking back at his own life and on the ways in which social stigmas meant he was barred from living authentically.
“Reflecting on my journey, I am convinced that had I been afforded the freedom to shine my brightest, I would have experienced a profound sense of happiness,” he says. Today, Faust uses his experience to support members of his school’s community. That means ensuring they feel not only safe and acknowledged, but also, heard.
“It is my responsibility to educate and raise awareness about the LGBTQIA+ community, ensuring that everyone understands and appreciates its diversity and significance,” Faust says. “I aim to empower all students to walk their own path unapologetically and authentically because every student deserves to experience genuine happiness and acceptance.”
In other words, Faust’s evergreen goal is to uphold Chicago Academy’s mission, which is, in his words, “centered on the belief that all teachers and staff should provide equitable, rigorous academic and social-emotional opportunities that celebrate and support all aspects of our students’ identities.”
So, what does that look like in practice?
Reflecting on input from the school’s equity committee and survey feedback from staff and students using Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) 5Essentials framework convinced Faust and his staff that they had a long way to go when it came to living up to the school’s mission. They decided to make a change.
At the end of the 2021-2022 academic year, Chicago Academy held its inaugural after-school Pride Assembly. The event was a success, resulting in a major turnout from both students and staff. Faust, who recently gave a similarly well-received presentation for the Department of Principal Quality on his experience, has exciting plans for the 2023-2024 academic year.
“My aim is to purposefully celebrate our identities as a school and consistently employ [each celebration] as a platform for educational purposes,” he says, adding that during the summer, he researches nationally recognized cultural holidays including Black History Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, and Middle Eastern and North African Heritage Month. From there, he invites staff members to act as event sponsors for each celebration.
The impact of our … Pride Assembly on the fabric of our school’s culture has been nothing short of profound. Students now have the freedom to embrace their true selves wholeheartedly.
So far, the school has held more than 12 culturally specific monthly assemblies, and the tradition has since become embedded in Chicago Academy’s identity. “The impact of our cultural assemblies — particularly our Pride Assembly — on the fabric of our school’s culture has been nothing short of profound,” Faust shares. “Students now have the freedom to embrace their true selves wholeheartedly.
“As a result, incidents of bullying and bias-based behaviors have significantly decreased, while the efficacy of our restorative practices has soared to new heights. More than that, we recently organized a thought-provoking staff panel where courageous educators openly shared their personal journeys of coming out with our student body. Witnessing the power of their — our — stories was truly awe-inspiring.”
As they look toward the future, Faust and his colleagues hope to establish guidelines that’ll help other CPS schools meaningfully support LGBTQIA+ students in ways they might not have been in the past.
Today, Faust is enthusiastic about the relationship between Chicago Academy and CPS, characterizing it as one of collaboration and partnership in the institutions’ shared goal of fostering inclusivity for LGBTQIA+ students throughout Chicago.
In a move Faust calls groundbreaking, CPS organized its inaugural Galaxy Summit, a district-wide, in-person LGBTQIA+ event whose organizers, keynote and panel speakers included Chicago Academy’s student president as well as the school’s Gender & Sexualities Alliances sponsor.
The success of the event, which is the first of its kind for the district and welcomed students in grades five through 12, signals more to come. For Faust, building Chicago’s school community through efforts like the summit is nonnegotiable.
“In my role, I recognize the utmost importance of cultivating opportunities and safe spaces that encourage students to embrace one another’s unique differences,” he says.
“Together, we are forging a path toward a more inclusive and accepting educational landscape for all students in Chicago.”