New D.38 chief gets personal with families
10/12/2012 Kenilworth Joseph Sears School Principal Dr. Janice Matthews poses for a photograph in her office on Friday, October 12, 2012. | michael jarecki ~ for Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 26, 2012 6:13AM
WILMETTE — When Janice Matthews talks about getting to know the Joseph Sears School community, she is absolutely serious.
Even before her July 1 start date as Sears’ new principal — she was appointed by the District 38 school board last February to succeed former principal Marty Powers — Matthews met many school parents and staff at an introductory get-together.
“It was my first order of business,” she said this month. “I got to know a lot of the staff in the spring, but during the summer I did home visits with my kindergarten families or met with them at school. It got to be a way to get to know 40 families.”
Pictures from those visits are part of a collage on Matthews’ wall.
Matthews didn’t grow up consciously wanting to be a teacher, but the Michigan native admitted she enjoyed playing school with her four siblings. She graduated with masters and doctoral degrees in education from the University of Michigan, her MBA from Michigan State University, and additional degrees from Northern and Eastern Michigan Universities.
She taught in kindergarten and first grade, worked as a literacy and professional development specialist, then spent 21 years as a principal in Birmingham, Mich. After five years there as assistant superintendent she spent five years in Green Oaks, Ill., as superintendent at the Oak Grove School District.
“I’d visit schools and see again and again that the person most directly leading the charge for children’s education was the principal, and eventually I wanted to do that again,” she said.
Matthews knew District 38 Superintendent Kelly Kalinich, and decided to apply for the principal’s position early this year, she said, because she liked the district’s reputation: “I had visited, and always thought it had engaged teachers and parents – a very good place to be.”
She is looking forward to working with teachers on programs that encourage students to “own” their own education, and is enthusiastic about continuing technology and curriculum initiatives.
Despite her full plate at school, Matthews takes time to enjoy ballroom dancing, a new hobby, and, when possible, to spend time with daughters Jessica and Lauren, both students in Michigan.
Last week, Kalinich praised Matthews’ leadership ability and experience with K-8 education needs. District 38 was fortunate in finding her, Kalinich added, because of “her genuine passion for education and for providing a learning environment where students and (staff) thrive as students and people.”
Matthews herself says her mission is simple, and that she hopes to spend the foreseeable future at Sears fulfilling it: I think my role is to be close to the children and teachers and parents. The principal is the connection between all those groups. And I really love it when I hear the kids saying ‘Hi, Dr. Matthews!’”