District 200 Starts the Year with New Superintendent and Four New Principals

These educators are learning what they need to know fast, just like the freshmen.

This year, District 200 has four new principals and a new superintendent, Dr. Brian Harris. Harris assumes responsibility for one preschool center, 13 elementary schools, four middle schools and two high schools.

At the Sep. 8 school board meeting, Harris reported the 10-day district enrollment at 13,481 students, down slightly, 125 students, from last year.

"It's a complex role," Harris said of his new job. With more than 13,000 students, roughly 1,500 employees and 20 schools, "It's a big organization and the job is a huge responsibility."

He added, "It's made easier when we concentrate on one goal: student achievement. That's our responsibility in public education."

By the time Harris took the job, District 200 had a two-year teacher contract in place and the annual budget approved.

"Even with a balanced budget things become complicated with the implementation issues," Harris said.  "In order to get the budget balanced, reductions had to be made. Harris reported in the Sep. 8 meeting that a total of 50 teaching positions had been cut from the District.

This year the biggest challenge is establishing fiscal stability, Harris said.

"Every school district is dealing with this. There's a lot of uncertainty in Springfield and at the federal level...The uncertainty is probably our biggest challenge."

The new year has also brought four new principals joining Harris in their first year in District 200.

"I'm very pleased with the selection of the new principals in the district," Harris said. He said they are "experienced educators" and "truly quality people."

Wheaton Warrenville South, Dave Claypool:

Principal Dave Claypool knows who's in charge at Wheaton Warrenville South.

"I may have the formal title of the school's leader," he said, "but I'm not kidding myself. They (the seniors) set the tone and when they demonstrate good leadership, good things happen."

Claypool, formerly the principal of Maine South High School in Park Ridge, knew he needed to start in the senior classrooms.

"I've been to all the senior English classes to speak to the upperclassmen…When I talked to the seniors…I need to hear from them, I need their input and advice. The seniors are the leaders at this school."

He said that the next step was to talk to next year's leaders.

"I want them to know who I am, that I want to be involved in their lives and I want them to know that I'm approachable," he said.

His initial observations confirmed what he had already heard.

"The students here are remarkable…That's what I was told before coming here."

"I've come into a school that's exceptional and now it's my job to work with the staff and students to see if we can make it even better."

Claypool said he plans to look at available activities to make sure they offer what students desire.

"We want every student to be involved with the school beyond the classroom," he said.

"No matter how good any organization or school is it can always get better." 

Franklin Middle School, David Bendis:

Franklin Middle School Principal David Bendis came to District 200 from a similar position at Timber Ridge Middle School in Plainfield.

Bendis said he hopes to learn and understand the staff and their concerns early in the year.

"I really don't want to make any changes until I completely understand the school and the people I'm working with."

Part of his staff's responsibilities involve managing a diverse student body.

"We have more diversity than most people think," Bendis said. "We have more than 20 languages represented just in this building. While that can be a challenge, it's also an opportunity to open the eyes of the kids to the world we live in.

"We have good people in place and the staff understands that just because we serve different languages and cultures, good education is not impossible. Sometimes you just have to approach things from a different angle and the teachers here at Franklin are innovative enough to do that."

Bendis said he hopes to create a positive environment and direction for Franklin.

"That would be the highlight for me to validate I was doing my job," he said. 

Whittier Elementary School, Chris Silagi:

Wheaton's second oldest school, Whittier Elementary, greeted Chris Silagi as its newest principal. Silagi had previously been the principal at Bristol Grade School in Yorkville and has also taught at the second and fifth grade levels.

"Coming to this school has been easy for me and it's been fun," Silagi said. "I want to have a positive impact with the people I work with. Being able to have a beneficial influence on a lot of lives to me is what I've always wanted to make my life's work and it's gratifying to be in a profession where I can do that." 

Washington Elementary School, Jon Pilkington:

Jon Pilkington came to Washington Elementary from another District 200 school, Johnson Elementary, where he was the assistant principal, a position he said was needed to prepare him for his new role at Washington.

"In my short time here, I've already seen teachers reaching out to meet the special needs of a family and spending time to tutor kids after-hours to make sure every student has the help he or she needs. That has really impressed me."

Having come from the classroom himself, Pilkington knows how tough teaching can be.

"What most people don't understand is teaching has a physical and emotional toll on teachers and as the principal I have always to be aware of that."  

Overall, Pilkington said he tries to invoke a culture that addresses the question, "What is best for students?" 

It's simple yet profound, he said, and the answer has "a huge impact."




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