Ask Luis Soria about the day he received the Oppenheimer Award
for excellence in teaching and he'll tell you how his digital
photography students surprised him.
They presented photographs depicting a day in the life of
Mitchell Elementary School, the Chicago pre-K to eighth grade
public school where Soria is principal.
"I was overwhelmed and filled with pride," he says. "I love
being with children and watching them evolve into inspirational
Inspiration can found in Soria's own 20-year journey to becoming
an award-winning principal, past recipient of the Kohl McCormick
Award for excellence in early childhood education and the first
Latino in Chicago to become a National Board certified teacher.
After spending a summer in high school tutoring children at his
neighborhood church, Soria, 50, of Chicago, knew he wanted to be a
teacher. His plans to attend Western Illinois University on a
scholarship changed when his father died in a car accident. To be
near his family, Soria attended Loyola University on scholarship,
but dropped out to help his struggling mother. He took a factory
job, worked as a bartender, and, one class at a time for 12 years,
he finished his degree.
Soria was honored with the 2011 OPPY Award for creating
experience-based curriculums, winning grants and getting his staff
to customize lesson plans based on students' interests, needs and
the state's core learning standards.
Soria is the first principal who also teaches to earn an
"When teachers have the support of the principal, they support
the students," says Ted Oppenheimer, president of the Oppenheimer
Family Foundation. "It's hard to find principals like him."
A recent grant will allow Soria to work with middle school
students on a bully prevention project. It will include a
student-developed pamphlet, documentary film and artwork all
depicting bullying and appropriate responses to it. The project
will culminate with a showing of the film and raising money for a
"I credit my teachers for the amazing work we do here," Soria
says. "It's not about the principal at our school. It's about the
community that we have established together."
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