Good marks, room to improve for Highcrest, Wilmette Junior High School leaders
Principal Dave Palzet shows some deficiencies in a 7th grade science class at Wilmette Junior High School back in May. Beside the physical part of the building, district officials are trying to improve administrative operations between the school and High
WHAT: Leadership review
WHERE: Wilmette Junior High School and Highcrest Middle School
HOW: Better communication with parents, staff; more visibility, clearer roles for administrators.
Updated: August 20, 2012 11:06AM
Combining the administration of Wilmette Junior High School and Highcrest Middle School has been a qualified success, one that comes with definite room for improvement, according to administrators who polled staff and parents at both schools.
Wilmette School District 39 principal Dave Palzet, who last month gave district school board members a leadership review analysis based in part on those polls, said officials at both schools are already working on the improvements teachers, staff and parents want.
Those include improving communication between administrators and the other groups, hiking the visibility of assistant principals who handle grade-level operations and clarifying their roles for onlookers.
And, although parents and staff gave generally good marks to the combined administration for smooth operations and a clear vision of how to educate students, they want administrators to work harder on anti-bullying and teasing programs to improve the environment at both buildings.
“I’ve been living this for a year now, and I’m glad to talk about the successes,” Palzet said, while acknowledging he wanted to improve the B and B+ grades that staff and teachers generally assigned him and his team.
“It took me some time to come to grips with these grades because I’m not used to being a B or B+ student. But it gives us room for growth,“ he said.
The district combined the schools’ administrations at the end of the 2010-11 school year, with Palzet, already principal at WJHS, taking on the same role at Highcrest. His new team included assistant principals assigned to each grade level at both schools; fifth and sixth grade at Highcrest, seventh and eighth at the junior high.
At the time, officials called the move an effort to help students – about 860 at WJHS and 800 at Highcrest – by creating a campus model that improved a sense of community between the two schools.
Superintendent Raymond Lecher said combining the schools could improve curriculum development and communications between grade levels. He also said the change would save about $50,000 in administrative costs.
Teachers, staff members and parent committees helped guide the transition to a melded administration. When the district wanted to know how the new model was working, it sent out five-part surveys to the same groups, then hired a consultant to hold focus group discussions with staff and parents.
Surveys revealed that both parents and building staff wanted more contact with the assistant principals, referred to as grade level administrators, and wanted more information on their duties. Palzet said he and his staff plan to spend more time in school classrooms, and assistant principals will become more involved in sending school information to parents.
To keep assistant principals in their schools and not out of their respective buildings attending necessary administrative meetings, Palzet and his team will try to handle more of those sessions with “distance technologies” like video conferencing.
In general, WJHS parents and staff were happier with the new administrative model than Highcrest respondents, and teachers were tougher graders than parents, Palzet said.
Parents and staff wanted to hear from administrators, but they wanted email communications that comprise the bulk of school news to be clearer and easier to understand, Palzet said: “We’re going to streamline what we send home.”
Survey respondents and discussion group members also warned administrators “not to bite off more than we can chew when it comes to starting new initiatives, so that’s something we will be very aware of going forward.”
Parents, teachers and other staff all wanted the administration to more actively tackle issues of bullying, teasing and tolerance more to improve the supportive environment at Highcrest and WJHS, so the administrative team will do so, he said.
“The qualitative data we got said that parents especially want bullying and intolerance to be more directly addressed, beyond school assemblies, and we’re going to do that.”
A report on the leadership review analysis is available at www.wilmette39.org by clicking on the home pages for Highcrest and WJHS, then clicking on “important documents” on either page, to find “Leadership Report Card 2011-2012.”