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School was a refuge, where she escaped neighborhood crime and fear

Chalkbeat journalists ask the people we come across in our work to tell us about their education stories and how learning shaped who they are today. Learn more about this series, and read other installments, here.

Andrea Hunley is in her fourth year as principal of Indianapolis Public School 2, a Center for Inquiry magnet school. Growing up in Fort Wayne, her father worked the night shift, so he was always there to pick her up from the bus or chaperone school field trips. We spoke with her after a school board meeting in November and followed up with her last week.

Here’s her story: 

I grew up in a poor, poor, poor area of Fort Wayne, where it was not uncommon to hear police sirens coming down my street at dinnertime. It was not uncommon for our house to be robbed. Seven times before I was in fourth grade, our house was broken in to. And that is hard for a little kid. You don’t feel safe, you don’t feel safe at home and that’s where your safe place is supposed to be.

My parents wanted me to have every opportunity. My parents worked so hard. They signed me up for T-ball, and I was horrible at it. They signed me up for gymnastics — I was so uncoordinated. But then they took me to the library, and I was like, “there are all these books in one place? This is amazing.”

At the main central library in Fort Wayne, there was this cove that you could crawl into, like a little tunnel, and that was my favorite place. I would run over there to the reading nook and climb in with my book and feel comfortable and excited and passionate about reading.

Then they also looked for a school that would feed my love for reading and my love for talking as well. And so there was a communications magnet way on the other side of town that focused on Spanish and journalism.

I loved it.

I still remember one day when I came home and I said to my mom, “I went to the principal’s office today,” and I was excited about it. She said, “you went to the principal’s office today?” My principal would select students to come in and read to him. So I got to go as, you know, this little elementary student and sit down and read to my principal.

When I became an administrator, I thought, that’s the kind of principal I want to be. I want to have an open door. I want kids to feel comfortable coming in to me.

And today a kid brought in something off the playground that she found that she thought was interesting. They recognize that I have an open door.

I’m also adopted. I have two siblings, so all three of us were adopted. I was in foster care prior to my parents adopting me. I was young, so I don’t remember that part. But I’ve always known that I was adopted. My parents celebrate the day that I was adopted as another birthday, and in fact my staff here now celebrates my special day as well.

When I left for college, my parents moved to Florida. They were having a blast, semi-retired, just hanging out. And when I decided I wanted to become a principal, I called them and I said, “I can’t do this unless you’re here, because it is a family commitment.” And my parents said, “OK.”

They moved to Indianapolis, and they live on the West side of town now — they built a house out there. They take care of me and they take care of my kids. I asked my sister to move here, she did too. So we’re all here together, and they are my saving grace. I have a fabulous husband as well, but I think family is really important.