The school’s founder, Paul Adams, is originally from Montgomery, Alabama. The son of a school teacher, Adams received his BA from Alabama State University. He grew up during the civil rights movement and participated in Dr. Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery. Because of that participation, he was blacklisted in Alabama and unable to obtain a teaching position.
Adams left Alabama and moved to Chicago, receiving a master’s degree in psychology from Northeastern Illinois University. In 1971, he was hired as director of guidance for Providence St. Mel School, then a private Catholic high school. A year later, he became principal. When the Archdiocese of Chicago withdrew funding from the school in 1978, Adams spearheaded a national campaign to raise money for the school. In response to his publicity-seeking efforts and the support of the Providence St. Mel students and community, the school received local and national media attention. Donations poured in from across the country, allowing Adams to transition Providence St. Mel into a not-for-profit independent school.
At Providence St. Mel, Adams focused on developing a strong academic standard while enforcing strict disciplinary codes. To guarantee the safety of his students, he literally moved into the empty quarters of the convent inside the school to ward off thieves and vandals. His dedication became legendary and during the next two decades, Adams successfully transformed Providence St. Mel into a premier college preparatory learning institution for African-American students.
Since 1996, Adams has served as president of Providence St. Mel School, managing an annual budget in excess of $7 million. He remains very active in planning the curriculum for the school, which has since expanded to include pre-kindergarten, elementary, and middle grades, for a full pre-K-through-12 grade span. Under his leadership, 100 percent of Providence St. Mel’s graduating seniors have been accepted to four-year colleges and institutions of higher learning for over 30 years, with over 50 percent attending top-tier and Ivy League institutions for the past seven years.
To further his groundbreaking approach to education, Adams waded into the public school arena by founding Providence Englewood Charter School. During the 2006 -2007 school year, he served as principal while, as part of Providence St. Mel’s Leadership Development Program, he and Jeanette DiBella trained the designated, incoming, permanent school principal.
According to Adams, “I learned early on that without a proper education, a person is doomed. If I could provide the right environment, our children could enter these doors and feel free to learn and prosper.”
Adams has received numerous awards for his accomplishments, including the McDonald’s Education Achievement Award, the African-American Male Image Award, the Rozell R. Nesbitt Community Education Award, and five honorary doctorates. Adams was named an American Hero in Education by Reader’s Digest and was voted Man of the Year by the Chicago Urban League. He also was chosen by Michigan State University as a distinguished Crystal Apple Award winner. Most recently, the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago has selected Adams as one of Chicago’s 2009 Heroes, individuals chosen because they embody the guiding principles of the Red Cross, serve the community with dedication, and inspire others to do well.
Providence St. Mel School
119 South Central Park Boulevard
Chicago, Illinois 60624
Providence Englewood Charter School
6515 South Ashland Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60636