The Real Deal: Extraordinary Results at Providence St. Mel

The Foundation’s mission is to assist disadvantaged people to obtain education and employment. We frequently invest in early education because it is the key to post-secondary success. One of our better investments is in Providence St. Mel, a private school in Chicago.

Providence St. Mel has an enrollment of about 600 students, from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. As the name suggests, the school was started by the Catholic Church and, until 1978, was owned and operated by the Sisters of Providence. The Catholic Archdiocese discontinued funding for the school and wanted to obtain the building and land for other purposes. Instead, the Sisters sold it to a group headed by the school’s principal, Paul Adam100s.

Paul Adams was born in 1940 and brought up in Alabama. He attended Alabama State University and was active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. He could not get a teaching job in Alabama and moved to Chicago in 1971, to take up employment as Director of Guidance at Providence St. Mel. A year later he became principal.

Paul Adam’s campaign to raise money to buy Providence St. Mel attracted local and national attention. President Reagan visited the school in the early 1980s and came back later for a second visit when he remarked that educators across the country who don’t know what to do should come to Providence St. Mel. The Governor of Illinois has visited and made similar comments, as has Oprah Winfrey. President Barack Obama visited the school years ago, when he was a State Senator and a book by noted educator Samuel Casey Carter profiled Providence St. Mel among the best 12 schools in the nation, from 3500 studied.

Providence St. Mel is a political and media darling because it produces unusually good outcomes for disadvantaged students. Last year 100% of its high school graduates qualified for university entrance to tier one institutions. Standardized test scores are well above national averages.

So what is the secret to this success?

Predictably, Providence St. Mel succeeds because it employs basic sound principles of education in a systematic and straightforward manner. Teachers are selected with care and monitored. The good ones are rewarded. The weaker ones are weeded out. Teachers are supported professionally. Students are accountable. When a student is not performing, advice and criticism come from the teacher, not the parents. Students spend more time in the classroom and academic standards (and disciple codes) are rigorous.

Providence St. Mel is a private school and receives no government support. It gets its money from tuition and private grants and contributions. Students are subsidized according to need but every family pays something, regardless of financial circumstances.

Families realize that Providence St. Mel can provide a ticket out of poverty. Students come to believe, correctly, that with hard work they can be the equal of anyone.

Providence St. Mel is the real deal, a place where good people and good ideas intersect to produce extraordinary results. It is an excellent investment for anyone seeking to assist disadvantaged people to obtain education. Check it out at

Class of 2016 graduates

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