CHICAGO (CBS) — Three years ago, Leo High School was in trouble, its future in doubt. But then the school hired a dynamic young principal.
A lot has happened in those three years at Leo High School and for Shaka Rawls, who was hired by Leo president Dan McGrath.
“It’s the best decision I ever made,” McGrath said.
CBS visited the school in 2016 during Rawls’ first week as principal. A lot was at stake.
Leo had had years of declining enrollment. There was fear the school could not survive after more than 90 years in Chicago on 79th Street.
“We went through the couch cushions looking for change,” McGrath said. “We went through some lean times.”
— Jim Williams (@JimWilliamsCBS2) August 20, 2019
For the young educator, it was a homecoming. Rawls graduated from Leo in 1993.
“I’m a pretty driven guy, and no one is harder on me than me,” he said.
He hired new teachers and a dean of discipline, improved the school building itself and worked on the curriculum.
Today every freshman takes two math classes.
There were just over 100 students when Rawls started. Today there are 180 students and a wait list.
That’s a 40% increase in enrollment and Leo’s largest freshman class in 15 years.
“It’s like a different school,” McGrath said. “The kids feel good about being here. Their parents feel good about having them here, and the energy level in the building is just phenomenal.
Seniors Christian Johnson and Ronnel Johnson said they “actually enjoy high school.”
Rawls is Leo’s biggest cheerleader. He’s active on social media, recruiting allies for the school at 79th and Sangamon.
“Everything is just a lot larger. Our population is larger,” he said. “But the community that supports us is also larger, and that’s how school like this survive.”
Rawls says he’s getting enormous support from alums. Many them attended Leo decades ago. He told CBS 2 no one is talking about closing Leo today.