This article was written by Darcel Rockett and was published in the Chicago Tribune on August 18, 2022.
What happens when a former Fenger High School principal, at the helm of an organization for and about youth’s well-being, brings aboard a former Tilden Career Academy principal to help with equity work?
Chicago will find out, now that Maurice Swinney — Chicago Public Schools’ former chief equity officer, and interim chief education officer — has taken the position as chief innovation officer with Chicago Beyond, a nonprofit that invests in hyperlocal organizations, community leaders and equitable research opportunities that are positioned to change the lives of young people in Chicago, according to its website. The mission since 2016: a more equitable city for all young people, regardless of ZIP code.
Swinney ended his tenure at CPS in February and started with Chicago Beyond this month focusing on innovative designs that create more equitable systems to positively impact young people and communities.
“I’ve been in public education for 21 years,” he said. “I was ready to take a break, start dreaming and get back into it. It’s helpful that Liz (Dozier) is a former principal. The work of Chicago Beyond is always centering around youth. I believe no matter what scope of work I pick up in my life, it will always be about giving young people opportunity.”
And making those opportunities a reality starts with listening and learning what communities need and want, a job that Swinney takes seriously. He said when it comes to needs he constantly hears in communities is young people want space, they want opportunities, they also want to design and build things themselves. Families want continuity of care in terms of housing, food, and clothing, and they want to believe that systems can work for them. “I’m interested in getting into the weeds in design so that we can coordinate the right things to help serve our communities better,” he said.
Dozier, founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond, said Swinney in this new role was a group decision.
“It’s about creating more access, more opportunity for our young people and for our communities and if you look at Maurice’s career it doesn’t take someone very long to see he has over two decades worth of experience on the ground teaching in schools, leading the district, starting the equity office — really creating this web of supports for our young people in schools and districts and it wasn’t very hard when he announced he was leaving to say ‘that’s the person that is going to help lead our innovation work, who thinks differently, who has community voice,’ ” Dozier said. “At the center of who he is and how he shows up in this world and in this work, he’s the person who’s going to lead us to this next chapter and phase of Chicago Beyond.”
As the head of CPS’ Office of Equity, Swinney and his team created the district’s first equity framework to guide CPS staff and district members in addressing equity issues and narrowing the opportunity gap for students.
Swinney helped direct equity-based funding to schools in underserved communities and revised over a dozen Chicago Board of Education policies to be more inclusive. As a principal, Swinney said he’s seen how systems can and cannot work for young people and their families, so he’s set on thinking about ways to do things differently to effect change.
“When we talk about rethinking systems we’re thinking about what is the intersection of different systems that are impacting the lives of young people, to get them to be coordinated to serve young people better, especially those furthest from opportunity,” Swinney said. “When we built the equity framework, I chose to go out and to listen and connect with people. I’m about getting back out there talking to community members that are already expanding the reach and depth in different communities around the city to co-design something and bring it to light.”
Dozier is hoping Swinney’s work and new ideas come to fruition locally, and evolve as national models. She’s hoping his experience and expertise will accelerate Chicago Beyond’s programs such as Cook County Jail’s visitation pilot program and addressing research equity through Why Am I Always Being Researched?
“Chicago Beyond is rooted in the experiences of our team, which is working in community,” Dozier said. “When I started Chicago Beyond, I always meant for it to lift communities up to do right by kids, to do more for kids, to create more access and more opportunity. Chicago Beyond has helped orchestrate changes around how incarcerated parents visit with their children … and the work with “Why Am I Always Being Researched,” is changing how researchers are showing up in communities, the questions they’re asking and how they’re putting community voice at the forefront of research. Maurice’s role is just an extension of that …(he’s) meant to lean into his own expertise in systems to help create an ecosystem that’s designed to support our young people.”