Principal Shaka Rawls’ efforts to keep Leo High School thriving as a beacon of hope and educational opportunity in Auburn-Gresham are gaining attention throughout the community and beyond.

On Saturday, Jan. 25, the IDeaL Education Foundation presented Mr. Rawls with an “Urgency of Now” award for his contributions and commitment to inner-city education. Mr. Rawls was honored at a luncheon commemorating the work of Dr. Martin Luther King at Chicago’s Marriott Marquis Hotel, 2121 S. Prairie Ave. on the McCormick Place campus.  

Among the other honorees was Leo senior Ronnell Johnson, who will receive scholarship assistance for college from the IDeaL Foundation in recognition of his academic performance and commitment to community service. Ronnell is an honor student, co-captain of the baseball team and one of the leading voices in the world-renowned Leo Choir. In addition to participating in service projects at Leo, he does extensive volunteer work for the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp. 

“Ronnell and I came into Leo together,” Mr. Rawls said. “I’ve been very proud watching him mature into such a fine young man.”

Since 1992, the IDeaL Education Foundation has worked to support the education and social development of neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Its aim is to enhance the well-being of communities through educational and leadership development while promoting civic engagement. 

“I’m quite honored by this recognition, but it’s really an award for Leo High School and the work we do,” Mr. Rawls said. “That work is a total team effort, so I accept on behalf of the entire Leo team.”

On Feb. 20, Mr. Rawls will receive an Education Achievement Award from Secretary of State Jesse White, in conjunction with the Secretary’s celebration of African-American Heritage Month.

The event, scheduled for the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago at noon, enables Secretary White to pay tribute to the ventures, triumphs and accomplishments of African Americans in various occupations throughout Illinois. Mr. Rawls, in his fourth year as Leo’s principal, is being cited for his work in education.

“I’m very happy for Shaka, and even more proud of him,” Leo President Dan McGrath said. “This is a statewide honor that recognizes the tremendous work Shaka has done since he came to Leo.”

Enrollment has increased by nearly 40 percent during Mr. Rawls’ four years at Leo, and ACT scores are up, on average, by two points per student. This year’s freshman class is Leo’s largest in 15 years, and overall enrollment is at a 12-year high.

“It’s amazing what a difference one person can make if it’s the right person,” McGrath said, “and there’s no question Shaka Rawls has been the right man for Leo.”