Fenwick Hires Full-Time School Resource Officer

“The safety and security of our students always is our first and foremost priority.” – President Father Richard Peddicord, O.P.

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Fenwick has hired one of its own as a School Resource Officer. James Sperandio (pictured above), from the Friars’ Class of 1985, retired in June from the Village of Oak Park Police Department, where he served for 27 years; the last 19 as a detective.

“The safety and security of our students always is our first and foremost priority,” stated President Father Richard Peddicord, O.P. “They truly are our most valuable resource, and we need to do whatever it takes to protect them when they venture across our ‘moat and draw-bridge’ from the secular world.

“We Friars are celebrating our 90th academic year here at Fenwick in 2018-19,” Fr. Peddicord continued, “and this is the first time we will have someone in this capacity on a full-time basis.” Officer Sperandio, who nearly everyone knows as Jimmy, has worked part-time for several years at Fenwick. “His is the smiling face behind the glass at our reception window,” Peddicord said. For the past 11 years Mr. Sperandio has taught a non-credit “Street Law” class at his high school alma mater.

Get to know Fenwick’s Officer Sperandio by reading this blog from May of 2017: https://blog.fenwickfriars.com/tag/jimmy-sperandio/

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Students-Turned-Teachers Help to Advance the Friars’ Mission

Why is it that such a surprisingly high number of former students return to Fenwick to teach future alumni?

By Mark Vruno

Presently, there are approximately 140 teachers, administrators and staff members at Fenwick High School, and 38 of them have walked the hallowed halls in Oak Park as students. Over the course of the school’s nine decades in existence, many more former pupils have returned to work and serve. “People come back to Fenwick because of the impact the school had on their lives,” believes Social Studies/History Department Chair Alex Holmberg ’05. “Whether that impact was inside or outside the classrooms, Fenwick leaves a powerful impression on everyone,” says Mr./Coach Holmberg, who triples as the school’s clubs/activities director and the defensive coordinator of the varsity football team.

Alex Holmberg ’05

“The opportunity to shape how future students approach the rest of their lives is incredibly powerful,” he notes, “and that potential draws so many people back into the building. Thinking about that opportunity to help prepare and motivate future Friars is what brought me back to Fenwick, and that thought is what motivates me to continue to help the school in whatever way I can.”

Principal Peter Groom, who has taught Friars since the 1980s, reports that many of the Fenwick graduates he has hired, he had in the classroom. “We get to know our students during their time here,” Mr. Groom explains. “We get to know their intelligence, their values, their passion and their work ethic. Typically, our graduates are also committed to our mission. When we hire people who are committed to our mission, we hire people who want to remain a part of our community for a long time. One of the keys to building a mission-based school is to have teachers who are committed and who demonstrate the aforementioned values.”

Roger Finnell ’59, a Fenwick mathematics instructor for more than five decades, concurs with fellow alumnus Holmberg:  “Many alumni teach here because they remember their experience at Fenwick as being something special and want to contribute towards continuing the traditions here,” reflects Mr. Finnell, who is Math Department Chair.

Roger Finnell in 1968.

“I knew I wanted to teach math when I started college,” shares Finnell, who also is the man behind the scenes of Black Friars Guild stage productions. “In my senior year at Loyola, after I finished student teaching at Lane Tech in Chicago, I heard about an opening at St. Ignatius, so I made an appointment for an interview. But then I thought I might as well also inquire at Fenwick. I did my Fenwick interview and was offered a position here, so, seeing this as a great opportunity, I quickly cancelled my St. Ignatius interview and the rest is history!”

Representing the Classes of 1959 to 2012

Kevin Roche ’05

Holmberg and math/computer science teacher Kevin Roche ’05 are two of thousands of Friars taught by Mr. Finnell over the past 55 years. “I think that there are a large amount of Friars returning because they had a great experience at the school, believe in what the school does, and want to be a part of ‘steering the ship’ for future generations,” chimes in Mr. Roche, who also coaches cross country. “We have Friars in different aspects of the school (operations, administration, faculty and development) who all had different experiences here yet all want to give back. I believe that this influx of alumni teachers is also a sign of our generation: millennials have a great desire to find meaning and purpose in their work. That is their highest motivator and education is a career that offers immense purpose and validation for the work through strong relationships.”

Grace Liliek ’08

Grace Lilek ’08, who is in her third year of teaching social studies at Fenwick, captures the sentiment of many of her colleagues who also are alumni: “I was inspired to pursue a career in education based on my experiences at Fenwick,” says Ms. Lilek, who also is a learning resource coordinator. “I think experience is the first reason so many of us have come back to Fenwick to teach. You will not meet two Fenwick graduates who had the exact same experience. You can be an athlete or a thespian or participate in academic competitions, and always find your niche. You can also take on all three of those roles and thrive. It is an honor to come back to Fenwick as a teacher and share these experiences with our students.” Lilek continues:

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Friar You Should Know

Meet Fenwick’s security ‘chief,’ Jimmy Sperandio ’85.

By Mark Vruno

Most of us know his smiling face at the school’s front reception desk after hours, but few members of the Fenwick community actually know who Jimmy Sperandio is. For example, did you know that Jimmy is a Friar alumnus who graduated from FHS in 1985? Or, that his day job is working as a detective for the Village of Oak Park Police Department (OPPD)?

A 26-year OPPD veteran, Sperandio grew up in Elmwood Park and went to Fenwick with Father Dennis Woerter, O.P. “We both were from Elmwood Park,” Jimmy says. “Fr. Dennis was a year behind me in school. When we were about 12 years old, he was one of the few left-handed batters playing baseball in the neighborhood. I felt bad because I would bean him all the time,” he adds with a laugh.

A few years later, the two were playing soccer for Fenwick and then attended Loras College together in Dubuque, Iowa. “We tease each other but generally have a lot of affection for each other,” Fr. Woerter adds. “Jimmy has always looked out for other people.  He is the one who got me to join our fraternity, and he took me under his wing my first year playing soccer at Loras. One incident I do remember is a game in the mud in the Rock Bowl, the stadium at Loras. I got hurt during the game and was lying on the field for a while. The first person at my side was Jimmy, and he also told the ref to stop the game because I was hurt. I also recall that he helped get me off the field — which was probably quite a sight, considering our height difference!”

Also enrolled at Loras at the time was Laura Docherty, a college counselor in Fenwick’s Student Services Department: “Jimmy was one of our ‘scopes’ in college — one of the best looking guys in our class! Beyond that, though, Jimmy was nice to everyone. He also was a really good soccer player,” Ms. Docherty recalls. Sperandio later transferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he completed his criminal-justice studies.

“One of my favorite memories here at Fenwick is that one of our senior football players lived in a rougher neighborhood,” Docherty continues. “The poms and cheerleaders were nervous to go there and ‘TP’ the apartment building before homecoming. Jimmy went and did it. The family and player were so grateful!”

In 2006 Jerry Ruffino, Fenwick’s operations director, transformed the school’s security department into a more formal operation. One of the first things he did was to hire Sperandio as director of security. “Back then, we only needed people at the front desk for about two and a half hours a day,” remembers Ruffino, who himself is a retired Maywood firefighter. Now, he reports, Jimmy’s crew numbers 10 – a combination of present and retired Oak Park police officers – “working for us five and a half hours a day, six days a week. “Almost all of them are Catholic Leaguers, with the exception of a couple public-school converts,” he jokes.

Coffee and Street Law

On May 19, for the second consecutive year, Detective Sperandio helped to organized the “Cop on a Rooftop” fundraiser at the local Dunkin’ Donuts on Roosevelt Road for Special Olympics Illinois. Police departments from more than 100 Illinois municipalities participate in the annual event; the Oak Park store has raised nearly $5,000 the past two years. “We park the Fenwick mini-bus in the Dunkin’ Donuts’ lot and some of our students volunteer, collecting donations and handing out coupons,” Ruffino says. “It’s a great cause.” There is Friars’ tie, too: Special Olympics Illinois Chief Marketing Officer Chris Winston is a Fenwick Dad of Cassidy Winston ’19.

For the past 10 years or so, Sperandio also has been teaching an 11th period, non-credit class at Fenwick called “Street Law.” Typically, anywhere between 10 and 20 student Friars are enrolled. Sometimes it’s difficult for Jimmy to keep smiling, especially with some of the crazy, day-to-day “stuff” he sees on the rough-and-tumble streets as a cop. The recent car jack/murder in Oak Park, for example, really shook him up. But he never loses faith. “Fenwick is my refuge – it always has been,” Jimmy notes. And then, there’s that smile again.

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