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April 5, 2021

Teacher of the Week: The Chicago Academy’s Sandra Oliva

s-oliva-totwWhat does it take to be an unsung hero in an AUSL elementary school?

I’m going to say emotional constancy, a personality made for collaboration, depth of knowledge, and mad organizational skills. With those talents as benchmarks, The Chicago Academy has an unsung hero in Sandra Oliva, Counselor/Case Manager extraordinaire.

This is Sandra’s second year at TCA and she has become indispensable. I remember watching the smiles on when the topic of the start-of-the-year teachers’ meeting turned to RTI during Sandra’s first week.

“I’ve made individual folders with all the papers and info you’ll need for each of the students on the current RTI list,” she told the staff. Did you get spontaneous applause from co-workers during your first week of work? Our hero did. Since that day Sandra has come to every meeting, no matter how impromptu, prepared with possible solutions, next steps, and a smile.

Anyone with the dual role of Counselor/Case Manager is busy, but Sandra always shows that she understands we all wear many hats and work to the edge of our endurance. Teachers at TCA genuinely feel she’s there for them and their students.

Sandra came to her school role accidentally. After graduating from college, she took a job with a social services agency as a case manager for foster care. There she had what she describes as the “very difficult job of recruiting families for foster care.” On that job she met a person who went back to school for social work and that sounded like something she too would like to do, so Sandra returned to school earning her Masters in Social Work from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Two years of the hectic work of a CPS Social Worker followed and here is where kismet stepped in. The Case Manager at Spry Elementary School, one of Sandra’s social work schools, retired and the Principal asked if she would be interested in the position. The idea of not being itinerant; of being at one school and really getting to know the students, parents, teachers, community really appealed to Sandra. She took the challenge and went back to college yet again, this time in School Counselling at St. Xavier.

Sandra has now been a part of the AUSL/TCA family for two years and has made herself indispensable to students and staff with her where-with-all and determination.

“Sandra is an amazing asset to TCA, with her dedication, diligence, and ability to get things done,” says TCA Principal Dr. Helen Wei. “Most of all, though, she cares for our kids, and advocates what is best for them. She effortlessly juggles so many balls at once!”

“There a lot to do,” Sandra reflects, “and I have the attitude — get the job done.”

“It’s all about staying focused,” she says. “Think, ‘What’s the problem, and what do we need to do to solve it? I stay focused on one child at time and think about what’s best for him or her.”

On her dual roles Sandra says, “Understand what the job is. You are doing two jobs and you can’t shortchange either of them. You have so many customers so you have to work with them all, and work with them all differently.”

Like everyone in our AUSL family, Sandra’s dedication can take a toll. So what’s her spot-on advice for teachers and anyone dedicated to working with school-age children?

“Don’t personalize it…and take care of yourself after you do.”


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