Nora McConnell-Johnson, MPP’21, is making an impact as the Manager of Strategic Planning and Data at Chicago Public Schools.
Nora McConnell-Johnson
Nora McConnell-Johnson

“Harris set me up for my dream career,” said Nora McConnell-Johnson, MPP’21 and Manager of Strategic Planning and Data at Chicago Public Schools (CPS). “As soon as I could see a career in front of me, I wanted it to be in education policy. Education is the foundation structure in our society, and it unfortunately creates many inequities.”

However, McConnell-Johnson also felt she “had no business working in education policy without having taught in the classroom.” So, after earning her BA in sociology from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, she joined Teach for America and moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. “I thought I was going to do two years and get out, but I realized I owed it to the community to be a good teacher.”

She went on to teach in New Orleans for five more years.

With a breadth of the “on the ground” teaching experience under her belt, McConnell-Johnson renewed her focus on education policy. And when researching graduate schools, McConnell-Johnson was drawn by how dynamic the city of Chicago was—and how focused Harris was on social impact.

“During my Admitted Student Day visit, I saw that Harris and UChicago have real impact and ties to the community, and bright professors doing cool research. I knew Harris was where I needed to be.”

And when she arrived for her first year, McConnell-Johnson immersed herself, which led to her participation in Harris Student Government as the Chair of the Social Committee. She was behind the scenes of several events put on at Harris and loved seeing the hard work she put into them translate into valuable experiences for the larger Harris community. 

One of the most valuable opportunities for many Harris students is their summer internship, and McConnell-Johnson said hers was no exception. She spent the summer between her first and second year with Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Equity, focusing on the technical and adaptive shifts toward equity in classrooms across Chicago.

“Plus, the path to my internship almost exclusively happened due to opportunities available to Harris students. At a Lunch and Learn event, I met the Chief of Staff for a Deputy Governor who ultimately connected me to CPS and made my internship possible. That’s why you go to grad school—to get those connections to get your foot in the door.” She was also able to secure funding through Harris and the Institute of Politics, which made her able to work for CPS at no cost to CPS.

“One of the unique things about Harris is that we can find our dream internship and funding issues don’t have to hold us back.”

After completing her degree, McConnell-Johnson continued working for CPS. In her current role as the Manager of Strategic Planning and Data, she is part of the CEO’s team in the central office. She provides analysis and recommendations across the district to support continuous improvement for CPS students, staff, and faculty. “Working for CPS is exactly the kind of structural impact in education policy I was looking to make.”