At Fenwick, six top-level administrators also (still) teach. Here’s why.
By Mark Vruno
What sets Fenwick apart from other high schools in the Chicago area and surrounding suburbs? Four differentiating aspects of the school come to mind:
The seven Dominican priests and brothers present daily in the building is one major distinction.
There also are eight PhD-degreed leaders among the Friars’ faculty and administration.
Another impressive statistic is that more than one-quarter of the teachers working at Fenwick also are alumni.
And yet another differentiator that makes Fenwick special is that six administrators also teach courses to students.
This last point of differentiation is akin to the difference at universities and colleges where actual professors teach under-graduate classes (as opposed to those taught by teaching assistants enrolled in graduate school). The six Fenwick administrators in the classroom are (from left in the above photo):
- Director of Scheduling & Student Data Mickey Collins ’03 – Accelerated Anatomy
- Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton – Orchestra Director
- Principal Peter Groom – Foreign Policy (History)
- President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P., PhD – Dominican Spirituality (Theology)
- Assistant Principal Eleanor Comiskey ’06 – Algebra
- Student Services/Enrollment Director James Quaid, PhD – Advanced Placement U.S. History
Every weekday afternoon for 45 minutes, you won’t find Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. in his office or on the phone. Instead, he’s in a classroom teaching Theology (Dominican Spiritualty) to senior students. Principal Peter Groom, who teaches History (Foreign Policy), has said that teaching and interacting with students in the classroom is the highlight of his work day. What is it that they enjoy about the teaching portion of their day-to-day responsibilities?
“Teaching is a way for me to be connected to the students on a personal level,” explains alumnus Michael “Mickey” Collins ’03, who teaches a science course in Accelerated Anatomy when he’s not overseeing the scheduling and data of Fenwick students. “I spend most of my time seeing names, test scores, course requests and schedules of students, but not as much face-to-face [time] with those students,” Mr. Collins adds.
“I think the fact that our administrators still teach keeps them more connected than most administrators at other schools.” – Assistant Principal/Orchestra Director Laura Pendleton
Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton notes, “The unique thing about being an education administrator is that none of us chose this profession. We all chose to be teachers first and then ended up in administration for a variety of reasons and circumstances. To be able to work in administration and continue to teach, which was my first passion, is a gift,” says Ms. Pendleton, who also is Fenwick’s Orchestra Director. “It takes you back to your early career, and I enjoy having the time working with the students vs. the adults. They keep you close to the pulse of the school.”
Why They Teach
“I think the fact that our administrators still teach keeps them more connected than most administrators at other schools,” Pendleton continues. “Also, most days teaching my class is a stress reliever!
“It is important for school leaders to stay connected with the student body because,” she says, “first and foremost, we are here for them. I can imagine that if you are not in front of students every day you might start to get a little disconnected. Teaching my own class is very beneficial for me when supervising teachers. Being in their classroom becomes more than just an isolated event and more of a collaboration: I’m also in a classroom with these students every day; I have the same issues. It gives us a very up-to-date understanding of what our teachers are going through. We have a unique student body here at Fenwick, and it’s important to know their needs specifically.”
Dr. James Quaid, former Fenwick Principal and current Director of Student Services & Enrollment, returned to Fenwick this school year. “I began my career as a teacher and always loved working with students as a teacher, coach and/or moderator,” Dr. Quaid shares. “Administrative work involves planning and finding ways to help students, teachers and parents/guardians. It also involves a lot of reaction to issues in which people are frustrated or upset. When I am in a classroom, I get to work in a very positive environment and enjoy watching students learn and grow. If you plan, communicate and react properly, there really are not that many negative things that happen. For one period each day I can just enjoy the experience.”
“Great educators are organized, patient and student-focused.” – Dr. James Quaid, Director of Student Services & Enrollment Management
“As a principal for 23 years I learned so much from watching great teachers,” Quaid elaborates. “Great educators are organized, patient and student-focused. They also love their subject matter, are able to teach in a variety of ways to reach all types of learners and know it is important to talk to other members of the community with any concerns (parents, students, co-workers). Great teachers and coaches work hard and hold themselves accountable. As a result, they are wonderful role models. I try to be just like them myself.”
“Many of these great teachers (like Pete Groom and Jerry Lordan) end up being administrators,” Quaid notes. “When I was the principal at Fenwick I encouraged people like our Associate Principal, Rich Borsch; our Athletic Director, Mike Curtin; and our Assistant Principals, Sandy Rose, Maria Albertini-Hill and Terry O’Rourke, to teach because they were wonderful in the classroom. We also had some Deans who taught. When I run into alumni, I always hear Mr. [Joe] Konrad stories. Administrators should teach. It is good for the students and keeps the administrator in touch with how it feels to be a teacher. It should be a positive, invigorating experience for everyone.”
Assistant Principal Eleanor Comiskey, an alumna from the Class of 2006, concludes: “Administrators make decisions every day that impact the students and teachers. By teaching a class, I can connect with the students – see how they are doing well, where they may be struggling, and where they believe the school is doing well or what can be improved. It is also a daily reminder of the hard work all our teachers are doing every day,” says Ms. Comiskey, who also teaches Algebra within the Math Department. “This interaction, reflection and feedback can aid in decision making that impacts different stakeholders.”