Letter to the Editor: This letter is in support of Dr. Chala Holland as a potential candidate for the Lake Forest High School Principal. My name is Daniel Cohen, and I am currently the English Division Head at Oak Park and River Forest High School. For the past four years Dr. Holland has been our Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Instruction. Prior to OPRFHS I spent 12 years teaching English at Deerfield High School and 5 years at Lane Tech High School in Chicago. I grew up on the North Shore and attended Deerfield High School.
To the students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators and community members of Lake Forest High School, I hope you will have the opportunity to be led by Dr. Holland. Dr. Holland leads courageously and compassionately and with integrity. She loves young people and loves learning and deeply believes in justice where all children receive what they need to achieve excellence.
Dr. Holland is grounded in research and guided by a deep vision of community where all students and adults feel welcome. As a school leader she has worked tirelessly to ensure that all students and all adults have access to resources and are valued members of the school community. For Dr. Holland a school is a family where she leads with humility and generosity.
When you spend time with Dr. Holland you quickly learn that she is happiest and most grounded when she is around students or talking about students. She is a truly remarkable leader who has the courage to seek multiple perspectives and ask hard questions. Her questions have pushed me to align my actions with my beliefs to be my very best to fully challenge and support all of our students.
Dr. Holland has been the major architect of our successful building-wide professional development model at Oak Park and River Forest High School along with spearheading our professional learning communities. She is responsible for creating a school-wide tutoring center to support all students who need academic assistance on everything from writing college essays to daily math homework. Dr. Holland has led district-wide work promoting executive functioning, literacy, social-emotional learning, racial equity, data-driven instruction and assessment for learning. At the heart of her work is a mission to achieve excellence and equity for all students.
In her time at OPRFHS, Dr. Holland has welcomed and listened to all stakeholders (teachers, staff, administrators, students, parents, community and Board members) and used their feedback to improve our programs and initiatives. Chala leads like a great teacher teaches. She communicates what’s important and outlines where we’re headed. She maintains high expectations and believes in us. She provides opportunities and space to reflect and learn. Her feedback is clear and timely, and she encourages us to set goals and to self-assess.
As a veteran educator I have to come to learn that part of an excellent education is learning to seek multiple perspectives, listen critically and ask effective questions. As a White male growing up in Deerfield, I had very little experience with people who were different than me, and my high-achieving high school left me unprepared to recognize what I know I don’t know in order to be intellectually curious and empathetic. Now as an adult and an educator, it is vital for me to continually uncover and study my own biases and assumptions (when it comes to race, gender, class, etc.) so I will not replicate them within my classroom and my community. I have been fortunate to engage and lead in some of this work with Dr. Holland over the past four years. She is a mindful, critical listener who leads with respect and dignity. She speaks her truth, values inquiry and is a perpetual learner. I am gratefully aware of her influence on me.
In my 23 years as an educator, Dr. Holland is at the top of the list for effective leaders of a school. While I will deeply miss her leadership, mentoring and friendship; I am excited to see her impact and contribution on an entire school community as principal. Lake Forest High School will be held firmly in the strong hands of Dr. Holland as principal.