Liz Dozier is being touted as the shining star on CNN’s series new eight-episode docuseries “Chicagoland”. The 36-year-old principal of Fenger Academy, a public high school in Chicago’s South Side Roseland neighborhood, is fighting for her students every day.
Since Dozier took on the job in the fall of 2009, she has faced a number of challenges. From a gang beating that was caught on cellphone video tape, to dealing with the violence and failing grades affecting the students, Dozier’s job isn’t a crystal stair.
But Dozier hopes that “Chicagoland” gives people a different look at the school and the strides its made over the last couple of years.
In a recent interview with HuffPost, Dozier said her decision to participate in “Chicagoland” was a fairly straightforward one that could help viewers better understand the obstacle of educating students in an environment like Fenger, where 92 percent of the student population is low-income and 31 percent are classified as homeless.
“I thought it would be good for people to have that insiders’ view and see the work that is happening not just at our school, but the work happening at some of our schools across the city,” Dozier said.
The series turns the spotlight on unconventional methods Dozier and staff use to help their students stay on track. In an episode that aired Thursday, Dozier is seen taking some of her students, including an aspiring chef, to dinner at the acclaimed Alinea restaurant to meet chef Grant Achatz and gain exposure to a world previously unfamiliar to them: one of her students had never eaten asparagus before.
In another, Dozier meets with a former Fenger student who landed at the Cook County Jail, urging him to make a plan to put his life back together upon his release. When he ends up back behind bars a short time later on a robbery charge, her disappointment is heartbreaking.
Some of Dozier’s and her student’s recent accomplishments include the rise in graduation rate, that was once 47%, to 73%. Also, Fenger now can boast that one of its graduates in 2013 was included in the city’s 35 Gates scholars and its number of college-bound graduates has been on the rise.
“People don’t hear about the amazing principals and teachers across our city who go above and beyond every single day,” Dozier said. “I know teachers at my school consistently spend out-of-school hours with students in a variety of positive ways to try and change the direction of their lives. One little smidgen of that is the work we do, but the whole city is doing really amazing things.
“We’re trying to do the best we can.”
I’m going to need someone to make this story into a movie.
If you haven’t checked out “Chicagoland”, it airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. ET on CNN.