In January of 2004, Anthony Scott was called before CPS representatives Donald Pittman, chief of high schools for the Chicago Board of Education, and Johnetta Jones, CPS area instruction officer. The purpose of the meeting: They wanted to appoint him as the new principal of Austin Community Academy High School.
It appeared to be an ideal opportunity for Scott. The school had been plagued by sub-par test scores and alleged illicit behavior on school grounds for nearly a decade. Now it was about to receive a regime change, providing Scott with the chance to improve the school that provided him with his first job in the field of education when he began teaching there back in 1976.
“When you are personally called in and asked to head a high school in trouble and you know you have the dedication to make improvements happen, you take that opportunity,” said Scott. However, the extent of that new direction was not made known to Scott until May of 2004, as he was assembling his faculty. He was contacted by CPS and informed that he should not accept any new freshman students.
“I was shocked,” said Scott. “I was preparing to begin at a new school and try to turn around the grades and behavioral problems, and now I was being told that regardless of what I did, the school was becoming a 2010 selective enrollment school. It was very disheartening.”
Scott was born in 1954 to a father who worked in a gas station and a mother who stayed home and raised her eldest son and his nine younger siblings in the Cabrini Green projects. This was a time before the projects became synonymous with garish white buildings with bars on the windows and criminal activity brewing outside.
His family was not rich, but he learned the value of hard work from his parents, catapulting him to a extended run of academic excellence.
After graduating from Waller High School, he attended the University of Iowa and then DePaul, earning his master’s degree in Mathematics. He later attended Northeastern University and obtained a master’s in inner-city studies. This was followed by a doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Illinois University.
A year after his marriage to Shirley (currently the principal of Ellington Elementary) in 1975, Scott began teaching math at Austin High. Shortly after, the school’s track coach abruptly left, and the students in his class who ran track requested that be be the new track coach.
“I had not really coached before, but I felt I could convey a level of discipline to the students that would keep them motivated throughout the season,” said Scott later taking over the football team as well.
He left the school in 1994 to pursue an assistant principal position at Orr. He remained there for four years before moving on to Arai Middle School.
In the aftermath of learning that the school would become the latest Renaissance 2010 rehab project, was it worth coming back to Austin High?
“I just hope it works out for the kids because they are the ones who will suffer if the plan fails,” said Scott.