A Leader in Progressive Education

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Amani Reed '93 is one of the youngest division heads in the nation
From the Spring 2010 Caller
Amani Reed ’93 was an unproven quantity when he came to Catlin Gabel in 8th grade, a self-described “extra kid in the class” who was admitted although the class was full and his admission test didn’t go so well. “The lesson I learned was that it’s important to give kids a chance,” he says. As principal of the middle school at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, Amani daily applies lessons like this one, learned from his many years following his heart toward a place he’s perfectly suited to inhabit—one of the youngest independent school leaders in the nation.
 
Leaders at Catlin Gabel noticed Amani’s rapport with students when he was just a sophomore. Ali Barnett Covell ’65, then the Beginning School head, and Roy Parker, then head of the Middle School, both asked Amani to act as mentor to their students, so he worked with the youngest children and accompanied 8th graders on their Gilbert & Sullivan tours.
 
Working with kids resonated for him. “I didn’t know I was teaching, really,” he says. “But I woke up one day and found that I was a teacher.”
 
Amani attended Howard University and the University of Portland, where he studied secondary education and played soccer. He became involved again at Catlin Gabel working with Speed-Ujima, the diversity group that he had cofounded as a student.
 
“I’m blessed to be in this work. But we never do it alone, and I had really strong mentors,” says Amani. His first job in education came through Roy Parker, who had moved from CGS to become head of the middle school for Pittsburgh’s Sewickley Academy. He hired Amani as Summerbridge director, and Amani ended up working at Sewickley for six years, teaching 6th grade humanities, coaching soccer, working in admissions, and serving as diversity director.
 
Amani assumed more responsibility when he moved back to the Northwest in 2002 to serve as assistant middle school head at Lakeside School in Seattle, where he continued to teach and coach soccer. Amani connected with kids, but this experience for him was learning about adult leadership and what makes a school run. It made him want to take the next step: to become a principal, and lead adults and children.
 
Amani spent two busy years between 2005 and 2007, working at Lakeside, pursuing a master’s degree during a summer intensive at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, becoming a new father (of son Taye, now 6), and exploring independent school leadership as part of Columbia’s Klingenstein Leadership Academy. “It all worked because my wife, Jules, is incredibly supportive,” he says.
 
Amani then landed his job as middle school principal at the huge University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, a place completely in sync with his educational philosophy. Founded by progressive education pioneer John Dewey, its tenets are similar to Catlin Gabel’s: experiential education, higher values, critical thinking, and individual responsibility for the collective community. Son Taye is in kindergarten just down the hall from Amani’s office, which delights him.
 
The work absorbs and satisfies Amani. “Figuring out the right way to support people, both adults and kids, to be their best is my goal.” He loves working with middle school kids, finding that to be the best part of his job. “The challenge of middle school is to create a sense of belonging. I help kids find themselves, feel connected to the community, and belong to something bigger and greater. I give them a sense of support so they feel that they can accomplish anything.”