CLASSROOM LEADERSHIP

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:

  1. The seven Dominican priests and brothers present daily in the building is one major distinction.

  2. There also are eight PhD-degreed leaders among the Friars’ faculty and administration. 

  3. Another impressive statistic is that more than one-quarter of the teachers working at Fenwick also are alumni

  4. 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
Peter Groom

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?

Mickey Collins

“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!

Laura Pendleton

“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.”

Continue reading “CLASSROOM LEADERSHIP”

Alumni Spotlight on Richard Cochrane ’59

Black History Month 2019

Pioneering perspective: Fenwick’s first black graduate reflects on the segregated life of his youth. “Mine is a difficult story to tell,” he says, offering a history lesson in the process.

Interview by Mark Vruno

Introduction

School records dating back 64 years confirm that alumnus Richard Cochrane ’59 blazed a trail as Fenwick’s very first African-American student and graduate. Originally from Maywood, IL, Mr. Cochrane now lives in the sunny Southwest. In high school, he was active in student government (class treasurer and secretary) and played football and basketball (captain).

Last February, one-time Fenwick student turned educator Marlon Hall, PhD. shared his freshman-year experience of the early 1970s, when he endured verbal abuse and physical bullying – all racially inspired.  In one of several replies to Dr. Hall’s guest blog, Cochrane pointed out that his memories of Fenwick were quite different and much more positive 17 years earlier:

“Dr. Hall, I appreciate your sharing your Fenwick experiences and the strength they gave you. In context, in 1950 the world-renowned chemist Percy Julian became the first African-American to take up residence in Oak Park. His home was fire-bombed on Thanksgiving Day of that year and again in 1951. In May of 1954 the Supreme Court rendered the ‘Brown vs. Board of Education’ ruling. In September of 1955 I walked into Fenwick as a freshman, two years before the ‘Little Rock Nine,’ and I am black. There were no other black students and there would only be one more in the next four years.

“Many of my experiences were similar to yours but the negatives were overwhelmed by the support of the majority of the student body, and the faculty support cannot go without mention. There were whispers and some name-calling and even a fight or two, but the Dominican family pushed, nudged and refused to let me think of anything but finishing. I was also aware of the financial burden that I was placing on my family. In return, I received an excellent education both academically and socially….”

Cochrane’s heartfelt response prompted our Alumni Relations Team to reach out. We learned that Rich is “happily retired” and soaking up sunshine in New Mexico. Our questions and his answers:

Richard, where did you attend college? Please tell us about your professional background and STEM-related career.

RC: After graduating Fenwick in 1959, I attended St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, where I majored in chemistry. While there I played freshman basketball and varsity football for two years until my knee gave out. I got a job in the coatings and ink industry and, eventually, spent 35 years with Sun Chemical Corporation. I held positions in lab synthesis, tech service, lab management, operation management and national accounts. I retired from Sun in 2003.

What was it like being the only black student at the Fenwick?

Cochrane (bottom, center) was the only black student on this 1959 Yearbook page — and one of three in the entire school. (Sophomore Wayne Morgan ’61 and freshman Harry Smith ’62 were the others.)

RC: In 1955, I believe my freshman class enrolled about 354 students and the school enrollment was about 1,236. As I’ve said, I found the faculty very supportive and the student body mostly treating me like any other student, with a smaller group either curious or distant. Only one of the other three students from my parish in Maywood [St. James, which closed in 2006] was close to me at Fenwick.

On the first day of school, when I went to the office to pick up my class schedule, the staff called back one of the students I was with to ask if I was really going to attend school there. A notable few of the upper-classmen were kind enough to offer short words of encouragement. If I missed the Madison St. bus, I would walk west until the next bus came and would often find the Oak Park Police close behind to make sure I reached Harlem Ave. The single greatest factor was the Dominican community. I got the feeling that they would not let me fail (or even consider quitting).

Did you have a sense that you were making “history” at Fenwick?

A young Cochrane using a slde rule in 1967.

RC: I had no sense of making history but there was a constant feeling of not being totally “at home.” Remember, at that time Oak Park had a population of 62,000 [there are 10,000 fewer residents today] and had only one black family — and their home had twice been bombed.

Continue reading “Alumni Spotlight on Richard Cochrane ’59”

Flipping the Classroom

A FENWICK ALGEBRA TEACHER IS TURNING THE TRADITIONAL LECTURE MODEL UPSIDE-DOWN.

171102_Andrew_Thompson_Class_0101
Rather than listen to his teacher lecture in class, freshman Emmett Koch works through an algebra equation with Mr. Thompson.

By Mark Vruno

For three school years now, Math Teacher Andrew Thompson has been “flipping” the educational experience for his freshman College Prep Algebra I students at Fenwick High School. Unlike their predecessors of decades past, these frosh do not sit through traditional lectures in the classroom. Instead, for homework, Mr. Thompson’s students listen to and watch 15-minute digital, audio-visual files of their teacher explaining algebraic concepts and, literally, working through equations. “They can see everything I’m writing as I’m doing it,” he explains. Then, the next day in class, students work (often together) on practice problems from their algebra textbook.

LISTEN IN AS MR. THOMPSON EXPLAINS THE CONCEPT OF COMPOUND INEQUALITIES.

Thompson spent the better part of a summer preparing and pre-recording the video files to reverse his conventional learning environment, and he has been tweaking and improving the content ever since. (He employed the use of Explain Everything, an interactive whiteboard app for Apple iPads.) One major upside of this teaching style is that a student truly can work at his or her own pace.

“An advantage of the flipped classroom model is that the videos are pause-able and re-watchable,” the teacher points out, “and they’re always available for review and/or reference via Schoology,” the school’s online learning-management system. “My students are given time almost every day to work at their own paces in class,” Thompson adds.

On the course description that Mr. Thompson distributes to parents and students at the beginning of the semester, he outlines a typical night of homework:

  • Watching one video and taking thorough notes on the [built-in] Notes Guide, which is available as a printable PDF document, or on a blank sheet of paper. “I ask students to at least copy down exactly what they see on the screen, even if they’re confused,” he explains.
  • At home, students also may finish up any in-class bookwork from the previous day. (Mr. Thompson does not grade the bookwork for completion, “only effort,” but adds that he stronglyrecommends that his students do it.)
  • Other reinforcing homework might include completing a practice quiz/test or extra practice worksheet, which also are completed for a homework grade.

Meanwhile, back at school in Room 34, a typical day in class could include talking about due dates and upcoming events, such as chapter quizzes and unit tests. Students also will review, together, the material from the video by doing some example problems on the screen. “This is the time where students can ask questions about what they did not understand in the video,” Thompson explains, which can take anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes. “I highly encourage them to ask questions.” They have multiple opportunities to ask questions in class, either with everyone or one-on-one with Mr. Thompson. The teacher sees value in peer collaboration as well. “They can learn the material from one another as well as from me,” he urges. Continue reading “Flipping the Classroom”