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Jaime Roundtree

Jaime Roundtree

Principal, Booker T. Washington STEM Academy | Effective July 1, 2024: Director of curriculum and instruction, Rantoul City Schools | Class of 1998

It wasn’t until Violet Harris and Arlette Willis came into his life that anyone had Jaime Roundtree pegged for a distinguished career as an elementary education administrator.

Not even the Chicago-born-and-bred hip-hop sensation himself.

“Funny enough: I don’t remember if I had the privilege of taking classes with Dr. Harris or Dr. Willis, but they were the ones I owe for allowing me to enroll in the graduate program” at the UI College of Education, Roundtree says of the two professors of curriculum and instruction.

“I remember the call from Dr. Harris that truly inspired me to pursue education as a career. Like most amazing educators, she asked me questions, listened intently and gave insightful feedback that made me feel as though my personal and professional experiences brought something to the field that was unique and of true value to both students and educators.

“She learned from my application that I had been a building substitute in the Chicago area and that I had this background as a hip-hop artist. She and Dr. Willis have always made me feel seen for who I am, a Black man and a father, and where I came from in growing up on the west side of Chicago.

“They were the first outside of the hip-hop community that recognized something special in my talents as a former artist. It was the first time I was able to see that my ability to write and perform creatively could allow me to be a contributor to academia and even more as a practitioner.

“I honestly don’t think all of my amazing learning or any of the accomplishments I’ve experienced would have taken place without having had that initial conversation with Dr. Harris, along with all the follow-up encouragement and support she and Dr. Willis have given me. They loved on me when I deserved it and kicked me in my (rear) when I needed it. I am blessed and thankful for that opportunity.”

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the UI’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in 1998, Roundtree went on to earn two master’s — in organizational leadership and educational leadership and administration.

Then it was off to work in Champaign’s Unit 4 — as a teacher at South Side, an assistant principal at Bottenfield, a principal at Barkstall, director of elementary teaching and learning for the district and, since the summer of 2019, principal at Booker T. Washington STEM Academy.

Next stop: Rantoul City Schools, where, starting July 1, Roundtree will serve as the district's director of curriculum and instruction.

Along the way, he’s received support from what he considers a second family at the College of Education, whose members include a third meaningful mentor — Jean Johnson, one of his instructors and supervisors during his days as a student teacher.

“She was instrumental in helping me through the program at many stages during and after my time as a graduate student,” he says. “She was another teacher who has always made me feel as though I have something special to offer the field. Her encouragement, insight and friendship have been of tremendous value in helping me stay grounded and motivated to grow as a professional.

“I have appreciated her and her husband Scott’s support throughout my years as an educator, and I am a better educator and person for having known them.”

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