Dr. Michelle R. Willis is a proud product of the Chicago Public Schools. She is a graduate of Whitney Young Magnet H.S.; holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics and Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin, two Masters Degrees in Education- the Teaching of Reading and Educational Administration from Chicago State University and a Doctorate of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Loyola University Chicago. She is one of eight principals in Chicago to complete the National Board Certification for Principals and has completed additional leadership training through Northwestern University’s Non-Profit Management Programs; and the Harvard Executive Leadership Education Certification program.
Dr. Willis ascended to the principalship through natural progression. She started her career with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in 1993 as a classroom teacher. She also served as a reading specialist, and assistant principal prior to becoming an elementary school principal. In 2004 she was selected as the principal of Nia Middle and Foundations Elementary Schools (2 small schools on probation housed in the same building). While there, Dr. Willis successfully turned both schools around. The schools received numerous CPS academic awards and were off of probation when she left in 2007 for the next challenge.
In April 2007, Dr. Willis was asked to assume the principalship of Gillespie Elementary School. The school has received numerous grants and academic awards. Dr. Willis and a small team of teachers wrote a grant in 2009 to become one of the original ten Chicago Public Schools with a technology focus. In 2012, Gillespie received the CPS Technology Innovation Award and the State of Illinois School Improvement Award.
In 2013 and 2014, Dr. Willis received the Principal Achievement Award for outstanding academic achievement at Gillespie. In 2015, Gillespie achieved the highest CPS performance rating a school can earn, Level 1+. Gillespie Tech continues to be recognized as a model school for technology integration.
In 2015-2016, Dr. Willis was a CPS Principal Fellow; one of twenty high-performing principals selected for the fellowship. In 2016-2017 she was one of thirty principals in Chicago and New York selected for the Cahn Fellowship for Distinguished Principals at Columbia University in New York.
Dr. Willis was selected as the 2017 Illinois Elementary School Principal of the Year. She is also a National Distinguished Principal. Dr. Willis has also received numerous recognitions including, but not limited to the following awards:
- 2019 Inaugural Most Distinguished Women of Illinois Award- Orrington Foundation
- 2017 University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Distinguished Alumni
- 2017 Chicago State University Educator of the Year
- 2017 Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Central Region Educator of the Year
- 2015 National Council of Negro Women Educator of the Year
Dr. Willis is also very service-oriented. She provides service throughout the community through her memberships in: National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP); Chicago Area Reading Association (CARA) Board of Directors; Chicago State University Principal Preparation Governing Board; Illinois Principals Association- West Cook Region, Board Member; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. – (International and Regional appointments) and The Links, Inc.- South Suburban Chicago Chapter. She has been a faithful member of Lilydale Progressive M.B. Church since childhood.