Continuous Learning for Fenwick Faculty and Staff

In-house Professional Development, which began in earnest during the 2016-17 school year, helps our teachers sharpen their skill sets.

By Mark Vruno

Starting in the fall of 2016, Fenwick’s administration implemented its own Professional Development (PD) program for faculty and staff. The ongoing teacher education program is spearheaded by Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton and Digital Learning Specialist Bryan Boehm.

Ms. Laura Pendleton, Assistant Principal

“At Fenwick, through the Dominican pillar of study, we do an excellent job of instilling the value of life-long learning in our students,” says Ms. Pendleton, who also is the Orchestra Director at school. “The in-house professional development program was created out of the need to provide opportunities for our faculty to spend time in community learning new skills and sharing expertise with each other. It has grown a great deal in its first three years and, in the future, will serve to be a space for our faculty to continue to work together to model life-long learning and exhibit their own love of learning to our students.”

Mr. Bryan Boehm, Digital Learning Specialist

Mr. Boehm adds, “Fenwick students are always being challenged to learn new ways of gathering information and data. Our faculty need to have the same experiences to be our leading force in their fields and subjects. Peer-led courses have been great for teachers to learn from one another and collaborate,” he continues. “Offering new perspectives, new experiences and alternative ways to teach the material that they have so much success with over their career will only benefit the students.”

Math Teacher and sophomore football assistant coach Matt Barabasz is one of four PD faculty leaders. Last year he conducted a session about how teachers can “flip” their classrooms. This technique “allows the students to watch and learn at home, while we then use instructional time to engage in meaningful conversations and applications. This session went into detail on how I use this process within my mathematics course, when applicable,” explains Mr. Barabasz, who came to Fenwick two years ago from St. Patrick High School in Chicago.

Contemplation: Golden Apple-winning Theology Teacher and Fenwick blogger John Paulett (center) inquires about a tech topic at a March 8 break-out PD session.

This school year one of his sessions is how to use Google Forms to facilitate parent communication. “Families are incredibly important within a student’s learning process,” Barabasz acknowledges. “Without the support of families, we as educators cannot fully unlock a student’s potential. This series went into how I communicate regularly with parents using Google Forms and how I keep the parents in the loop, on a weekly basis, on their students’ progress.”

Kudos from faculty participants

Now in its third year of customized PD, the faculty/staff sessions at Fenwick are wide ranging and run all year long on most Tuesdays and Thursdays, either at 7:30 a.m. or during lunch periods. Required to attend at least three sessions per academic year, most teachers seem to be buying into the idea. “I feel that the PD sessions are a great opportunity for a teacher to learn new ideas and strategies on how to become more effective,” says Spanish Instructor and alumnus Jim Reardon ’86. “Fenwick teachers are willing to share their time, knowledge and expertise with other faculty members. The sessions are not very long [about 25 minutes each] but allow you the opportunity to learn and develop new ideas.”

Spanish Teacher and Fenwick alumnus Jim Reardon.

Mr. Reardon add that he has taken PD sessions on Schoology, the learning-management system employed by Fenwick, as well as on EdPuzzle, which is a way to employ video technology in the classroom. “The PD sessions allow a teacher to better understand a topic, and then it is up to him or her to further develop their understanding and usage of the particular topic,” he notes.

English Department co-worker and alumna Theresa Steinmeyer ’12 attended Pendleton’s series on William Bender’s Strategies for Increasing Student Engagement as well as some sessions on ways to further incorporate technology into instruction. “As a new faculty member at Fenwick [2018], I have enjoyed these opportunities to continue growing as an educator while getting to know colleagues from other departments,” Ms. Steinmeyer says.

More than 20 PD sessions have been conducted this school year on topics such as:

  1. Schoology Refreshers – Bryan Boehm
  2. Schoology Gradebook Refreshers – Mickey Collins ’03
  3. Magnus Health System – Donna Pape (School Nurse)
  4. Apple Classroom – Tim Menich
  5. Classroom Management with Technology #1 – Alex Holmberg ’05
  6. Fall Book Club – Laura Pendleton
  7. Individual Educations Plans (IEPs) Level 1 – Grace Lilek David ’08
  8. CleverTouch Interactive Displays – Fr. Mike Winkels
  9. Tips & Tricks in Schoology #1 – Holmberg
  10. Dealing with Difficult Conversations – Pendleton
  11. Google Forms for Parent Communication – Matt Barabasz
  12. Learning Differences – Kyle Kmiecik ’00
  13. iPad Basic Maintenance / Troubleshooting – Boehm
  14. Assessment Strategies Through Schoology #1 – Holmberg
  15. IEP Level 2 – David
  16. Writing Across the Curriculum – John Schoeph ’95
  17. Pythonista for iPad & iPhone – Dave Kleinhans
  18. Tips & Tricks in Schoology #2 – Holmberg
  19. Science PD Series
  20. EdPuzzle – Brian Jerger
  21. Classroom Management with Technology #2 – Holmberg
  22. Assessment Strategies Through Schoology #2 – Holmberg
  23. iPad Basic Maintenance / Troubleshooting Level 2 – Boehm

In early April, Barabasz led a session on using “Google Forms for Class Data Collection” while Math Dept. colleague Kevin Roche ’05 is coordinating the Spring Book Club. Pendleton and Boehm then wrap up this school year with “Differentiated Instruction” and “Apple Classroom Level 2,” respectively.

PD Leader Mr. Alex Holmberg (at right, Fenwick Class of 2005) helps to “train” social studies colleague Brian Jerger.

“I try to run sessions with practical take-aways for teachers to immediately use in their classrooms, regardless of subject area or grade level,” explains fellow PD leader and Social Studies Dept. Chair Alex Holmberg ’05, who also is Fenwick’s Director of Clubs and Activities. “I’ve also tried to tailor specific PD sessions to address needs brought up from our end-of-year iPad Survey last school year. One of the positive aspects of the model of PD that we use is that it allows teachers to present on topics that they see as learning opportunities in their classrooms throughout the school year.”

“It has changed the way I manage my classroom.” – Brian Jerger

Participant and fellow Social Studies Teacher Brian Jerger adds: “The Apple Classroom presentation by Tim Menich has afforded me an easy, hands-off deterrent that has helped curb iPad abuse/distractions in class. It has changed the way I manage my classroom.”

Mr. Brian Jerger teaches U.S. History and Western Civilization at Fenwick.

Mr. Jerger, who joined Fenwick in 2017, also enjoyed Laura Pendleton’s Book Club presentation. “It provided a setting for teachers to come together and discuss the interesting methods, techniques and philosophies we all utilize in our classrooms,” he says. “In that same vein, I think the greatest benefit of the Professional Development series is it exposes the faculty to all the interesting work we are doing in the classroom that we do not normally get to see from each other. Due to all the ways in which teachers are pulled and stressed for time (and our humble natures), it is incredibly easy for us to get trapped in our own individual silos leaving us unaware of the great work our colleagues are doing. The Professional Development series pulls back that curtain, to some degree, and allows us to share some of this great work with one another.”

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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.”

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Nearly 50 Years of Imparting Wisdom and Collegiate Advice

Rich Borsch has been Fenwick’s lead college counselor for 47 years. What changes has he seen over five decades?

By Mark Vruno

Let the matriculation process commence for the Class of 2019! Now is the frenetic season for Fenwick’s college-counseling duo of Rich Borsch and Laura Docherty. Busy is an under-statement. Between early application and essay preparations leading up to January 1st, the two guidance gurus are up to their elbows in paper and student e-documentation.

It’s an annual rite at Fenwick and at high schools across the country, but few counselors have been immersed in the process as long as Mr. Borsch, who wouldn’t want it any other way. This school year marks his 51st at Fenwick, and he has been a college counselor for all but the first four.

In a typical, six-week period this fall – comprising 30 school days – representatives from 77 different colleges and universities, including the University of Chicago, Northwestern and Yale, came to Fenwick. A representative sampling of 11 other visiting schools (by date) during that time frame:

  • Lafayette College (Easton, PA)
  • Central Michigan University
  • Butler University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Tulane University
  • Juniata College (Huntingdon, PA)
  • Villanova University
  • Providence College
  • Boston College
  • University of Cincinnati

“These schools came from all areas of the country,” Borsch reports. “Ten of the top 50 colleges and universities were here; seven from the Big Ten came. We try to give our students exposure to all kinds of college options: from huge schools like Indiana University, with 43,000 students enrolled in the Bloomington campus, to tiny King’s College in Manhattan, New York, which has only 500 students.”

For Borsch, who says he loves working with the kids, it’s all about the right fit for each student. “We try to pick schools based on their individual needs,” he explains, which can be time-consuming. Graduates from the Friars’ Class of 2018 are attending 109 different colleges or universities in 32 states, Washington, DC and overseas in Scotland.

The University of St. Andrews was founded in Scotland in 1413.

“When I started doing this in the early 1970s, that number was 60 [schools],” Borsch notes. “We’ve had kids go away to Canada, Ireland and Italy, too.” Such international institutions as Trinity College Dublin and the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) “weren’t even a thought a generation ago,” he says.

TOP FIVE COLLEGES FOR THE CLASS OF ’18

  1. 37 Friars are studying at the University of Illinois (Urbana)

  2. 16 Friars are at Loyola University Chicago

  3. 15 are at Marquette University (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

  4. 12 are at Indiana University (Bloomington, IN)

  5. 11 are at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana)

Besides the expanded geographic range of college choice, what other changes has Borsch seen during his 47 years of student-college matchmaking? “It certainly has evolved,” he observes. One big difference is the number of Fenwick students going out of state for school. “In 1975, about 70% of our students stayed within Illinois. By 2016, that number had dropped to 22%,” he reports. Thirty-two percent of the Class of ’18 (98 students) stayed in state.

Lately, there has been a trend toward test-optional college admissions — and not judging prospective students based on a three-hour exam. “The University of Chicago is one of hundreds of schools doing this now,” Borsch confirms. “But the fact remains that 75% [of schools] still require either the ACT or SAT, so our students will continue to be prepared. Fenwick is the only school I know of where freshmen take the PSAT exam,” Borsch adds.

Snapshot of Rich Borsch

Mr. Borsch is in his 51st year at Fenwick.
  • Graduate of Leo High School, Chicago.

  • B.A. in English and history from DePaul University, Chicago

  • M.A. in counseling and psychological services, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota

  • Fenwick High School, Oak Park, IL, 1968 – Present (started as English Teacher)

  • Head Coach of the Friars’ freshman football team for 41 years (through 2015)

Continue reading “Nearly 50 Years of Imparting Wisdom and Collegiate Advice”

Q&A with New Student Services/Enrollment Management Director: James Quaid, PhD.

By Katie Bodlak ’18

What was your previous position at Fenwick?

JQ: I started at Fenwick in 1988 as Assistant Dean of Students.  I took over as Dean of Students from ‘89-’92.  I was Associate Principal for Academics from ‘92-’93 and from ‘93-2009 I was Principal.

 

What were you most proud of accomplishing in the time?

JQ: Enrollment increased quite a bit during that period and we did some major renovation projects.  The new gym, pool, library and annex were built. We also replaced the space that had been the old the pool with computer labs, a wrestling room and a teachers’ lounge. Test scores improved (ACT and SAT) and the number of National Merits increased.  We added sports like lacrosse and had a lot of success athletically. Academically we won state and national championships with the JETS and WYSE teams. Our Arts program also grew quite a bit. It was an awesome period to be here.

Where have you been working since Fenwick?

JQ: I served the Archdiocese of Chicago for two years as the Associate Superintendent of Schools.  I was responsible for curriculum, instruction, professional development and was the government liaison for the Archdiocese.  I went to Washington, D.C. and Springfield as a representative of Catholic schools.  After two years of that service, I went back to a school and became the Headmaster of Marmion Academy [in Aurora, IL]. From there I went to DePaul College Prep [formerly Gordon Tech] and was the Principal there for the last five years.

What did you learn at your last few jobs, especially at Marmion and DePaul Prep, that you will apply to Fenwick?

JQ: You know, they had some interesting approaches to education at Marmion. They are really locked into doing certain things a certain way. They are great listeners and they are able to focus well in the classroom, so some of the things that they did there I think would translate well to Fenwick. At DePaul we converted to one-to-one and took some different approaches in the classroom as far as doing more problem-solving activities and group work.  I know that Fenwick has been moving along in that regard.  I need to get caught up with what has been happening with the Friars. When I was at the Archdiocese, I was doing a lot of research on a lot of different things that can apply to almost anything in the curriculum, so I think we can incorporate some of those things to help.

Why did you decide to return to Fenwick?

JQ: Fenwick is one of the best schools in the country. I have been around a lot and have seen a lot of different things, and it is a very unique place. I think it is very special. They take their tradition of excellence seriously. The students get a great education in the Dominican tradition and really learn to express themselves. I don’t know of any other school that requires speech or four years of a foreign language. Students really learn how to write.

Three of my children graduated from Fenwick and were well prepared for life. I am proud of how successful they have been and how they go out of their way to help others. Fenwick played an important role in their development.  They have also made true friends for life. I just want to be a part of a great school.

What is your new position in Student Services going to be?

JQ: I’ll be working down in Student Services with the deans, the counselors and the learning specialists. I’ll also be helping with enrollment and admissions. I use to do a lot of work with admissions at Fenwick, and I did a lot of work with admissions at DePaul. On top of that, I’ll be teaching a A.P. U.S. History course. My first job as a high school teacher was at Lake Forest Academy [Lake Forest, IL] and I began teaching A.P. U.S. History there in 1982. Finally, I will be helping coach [sophomore] football.

What are you looking to bring to Fenwick?

Former Principal Dr. James Quaid is Fenwick’s new Director of Student Services and Enrollment Management.

JQ: I really respect the traditions of the school. I understand the history of the school and appreciate the way things are done and why things are done. I was very fortunate to have worked at Fenwick when there were still some people around who actually knew the people who helped found the school.  They told me why certain things were done a certain way and what the philosophy behind those approaches were. There are a lot of great people at Fenwick — like Mr. Borsch, Mr. Finnell,  Mr. Arellano and Father LaPata — who have been there for many years. They understand that, too. The student’s educational experience at Fenwick will be wonderful when we follow what the original founding father were there to do. I want to help carry on those traditions as much as I possibly can.

Where do you see Fenwick in the next five years?

JQ: I think it has a very bright future with some wonderful plans about many different things. I know they started a Capital Campaign, so within five years I would imagine we would see some of the fruits of that labor.

With Fenwick being more and more plugged in, like with the Class of 2018 being the first class with iPads, how do you think technology at Fenwick will change?

JQ: I’m interested to see where it is going to go. Other countries have not used traditional paperback or hardcover books for years in schools. Around the world, test scores indicate iPads have been used effectively.  You gain some skills from using iPads, but there are other things I think are lost as a result from using them. We have to consider what everyone is doing with technology, assess what is working and what is not working, and study the data on it.  It is a tool and not the whole driving force within itself.

I can tell you that 20 years ago we were doing a lot of great things with technology at Fenwick, and Fenwick has always been at the forefront of it. Fenwick also has some really talented people working with it.

I think the biggest problem with iPads is just keeping students on task and not getting distracted, because students have so much more of an opportunity to get distracted now than they did before. That’s always been an issue, so it is important that teachers are up and moving around and making classes interesting so the students are really engaged.

With you being at Catholic schools for most of your career, what do you think sets apart a Catholic education, especially at the high school level?

JQ: I really believe in faith-based education. One thing that the Dominicans have always stressed is that learning is accompanied by moral and spiritual growth.  Classroom discussions at Fenwick are conducted on a much higher level than at other schools because the theology at Fenwick is strong.  Is it moral? Is it the right thing to do? There are not limitations one finds in public schools so you can really get into some heavy issues, which causes you to think at a higher level.

Fenwick students historically have scored high on standardized tests because they are all able to solve problems and think on a higher level. I think they are learning those skills in a Catholic environment. I really do not know of any other school that does it better than Fenwick. I really don’t. Their classes are so solid and they are so tied together with what everyone is doing with each other. You could be discussing the concept of   “a just war” in Theology when talking about the Mexican War in history class.

Do you have a favorite memory or tradition at Fenwick?

JQ: I like the Fenwick sense of humor. I could give you a million examples. Many people who attend Fenwick are really clever, and there’s an environment where there is a certain amount of cleverness and humor that I have never seen at any other school. Three of my four children went there, too, so I have great memories of them being there and the great experiences they had there. I see their friends from Fenwick often and there’s a bond that I haven’t seen anywhere else. It’s really a special place.

About the Author

Before she graduated this past May, Fenwick Broadcasting Club member Katie Bodlak conducted a telephone interview with past-principal Dr. James Quaid, who — before this summer — had not been back at the Oak Park Catholic school in nine years. Ms. Bodlak soon is enrolling as a freshman at Millikin University in Decatur, IL.