Common Sense and the Importance of Obeying Rules

What Fenwick was and is: from the school vault …

Bernardi as a Fenwick student.

“I have been thinking about the anecdotes I recall from my years at Fenwick …,” alumnus Judge Donald Bernardi ’69 wrote some 20 years ago from his Bloomington, IL office to then Social Studies Teacher Mr. Louis Spitznagel. More than three decades had passed since Mr. Bernardi’s high-school graduation:

I will go to my grave recalling the image of Tony Lawless standing on the balcony of the pool prior to our exercise and lecturing on the importance of common sense. Mr. Lawless (see above) was fond of reminding all of us that, although we may walk around with a stack of books a foot high under our arm, it doesn’t mean anything if you ‘don’t have common sense.’ These comments were usually preceded by some event that occurred that day which demonstrated a lack of common sense on the part of one of the students.

Fr. Robert Pieper, O.P. was Fenwick’s Director of Discipline at the time.

The second memory that I recall vividly would be that of either an AM or PM assembly resulting from student rule violations. Generally, the assemblies were not pleasant occurences because we were typically advised of what the rules were and who had been breaking them — and then warned not to break them again in the future. Father Pieper would always end these speeches with the following words: ‘Those are the rules, and if you don’t like it, there is the door,’ as he pointed to the back of the auditorium.

The most vivid recollection I have of being at Fenwick in the 1965-69 era was the atmosphere of discipline created by the faculty and staff. The notion of group discipline was foreign to me when I arrived at Fenwick and it caused me to be on edge and alert to problems constantly throughout the school day. I recall numerous ‘Class JUGs’ [detentions] as a result of various persons in my class having misbehaved ….

“Overall, the high quality of the students and the intense academic competition [at Fenwick] made the transition to college remarkably easy.”

Ret. Judge Donald Bernardi ’69
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Faculty Focus: May 2020

Even from home, 3rd-year Fenwick Social Studies Teacher Brian Jerger loves Western Civilization — and working with freshmen!

What is your educational background?

BJ: I went to high school in the southwest suburbs — Oak Lawn Community High School (’09). I have my B.A. in History from the University of Notre Dame (’13). My M.Ed. is from Notre Dame as well (’15).

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

BJ: I was a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher in Heredia, Costa Rica, for nearly a year before coming to Fenwick. Before that, I taught World Geography & Cultures to freshmen at Saint Joseph Academy in Brownsville, Texas as part, of Notre Dame’s ACE Teaching Fellows program (2013-15).

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

BJ: It may not be for enjoyment, but it is almost impossible to avoid trying to stay current with the COVID-19 news. Aside from that, I am currently trying to finish The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

BJ: I really love to cook. Fall weekends are for ND football and the Green Bay Packers. Wednesday nights are Trivia Night for me. In the summer, I like to travel and try to get outside, whether it be for hiking, fishing, brunch, baseball games or something else. I also help out as a young adult leader for a youth group at my parish throughout the year. 

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?

BJ: A little bit of everything. I played golf and ran XC/distance track. I also participated in student council, class advisory boards, student helpers and a really unique group called Cross Countries — not to be confused with cross country. Cross Countries was a small group of eight students who fund-raised over $40,000 in three years to complete an international service trip to Bolivia to help build a hospital. I even did a group interpretation theater production my senior year. I was also really active in my youth group, Foundations, at Old St. Pat’s in West Loop.

Even eTeaching from his “home-classroom” can’t keep down Mr. Jerger!

Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?

BJ: I am the assistant debate coach and the assistant freshmen girls’ basketball coach. I also go on every Kairos [retreat] Mrs. Nowicki will let me!

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

BJ: In general, I think they push themselves and are gritty. Fenwick is not the ‘easy’ choice; students are challenged here. That said, the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire. Our students come out on the other end far ahead of their peers and ready to lead. And, in the end, they still wish they had “FOUR MORE YEARS!”

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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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