Students heading back to classes Monday at two Glen Ellyn-area high schools will be greeted by new principals, both of whom have been preparing for this moment since officially taking their jobs over the summer.
Sandra Coughlin, the new principal at Glenbard South, and Peter Monaghan, the new principal at Glenbard West, say being in charge of day-to-day operations at high schools with thousands of students is a daunting task. But the longtime Glenbard District 87 educators say they're ready, thanks to mentors who helped them prepare along the way and a support staff of colleagues who will be there to help down the road.
The Daily Herald recently sat down with both principals as they were making preparations for the first day of school. Here's a look at what brought them to their jobs and their visions for their schools:
Since officially taking the principal job July 1, Coughlin said it's been “a little bit like a marathon” waiting for the first day of school, but filled with “little sprints” of staff meetings.
After districtwide vision and planning meetings, Coughlin said she met with her school staff to see “How can those goals relate to Glenbard South?” and “What does it mean for our kids?”
“We have very high-achieving kids,” she said. “They're highly involved and engaged, and academically stimulated and challenged — and we want to keep that — but we know we can improve more.”
Coughlin, 50, was one of three internal district candidates out of 49 who applied for the South principal position after then-Principal Terri Hanrahan was appointed as the district's teaching and learning coordinator and Title I facilitator. Hanrahan stepped down from that position last month after two weeks on the job to become assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Plano District 88.
Coughlin most recently served as assistant principal for instruction at Glenbard East. She was hired at East in 1996 as a reading specialist and home economics teacher and later became a literacy instructional coach and the district's literacy and Title I coordinator.
In less than two months on the job, she says she's been trying to build relationships with parent and community groups, though it's been made easier by how many people have reached out to her, including several alumni who have sent emails wishing her well.
Her first communication with a current Glenbard South student came via email this spring after it was announced she had been appointed principal. She said the student, a junior, participates in sports and the school newspaper and wanted her to know that “one of the things about Glenbard South students is they're 'overly involved,' and would like for me to help them figure out how to balance things.”
“I really feel like I owe that to them,” she said.
Coughlin said she plans to form a principal's council composed of student leaders of clubs and organizations to get feedback on what they're hearing from the student body.
She also said she wants to raise academic rigor and increase the number of students who take Advanced Placement classes. With those goals, she said, comes assurances the school will provide the proper academic supports and make sure any academic gaps are identified early in a student's high school career.
“It's a push-and-pull system,” Coughlin said. “We're going to pull you into the honors classes, but we're also going to push you with supports.”
One of Coughlin's goals is for Glenbard South to earn the National Blue Ribbon award, a recognition given to schools with high student achievement.
Almost two decades after coming to Glenbard West as an assistant dean, Monaghan is now in the top leadership position at District 87's first school. And he says he's not sure he'd want to be principal anywhere else.
“I was interested in this particular job. Glenbard West is a special place for me,” said Monaghan, who was the lone internal candidate out of 42 applicants for the position. “I've grown over the years to have a huge appreciation for what this school represents in terms of history and tradition.”
Monaghan, 50, has served as assistant dean, dean and assistant principal for student services over the course of his 19 years at West. He replaces Jane Thorsen, who retired this summer after seven years as principal.
So what makes Glenbard West special?
There's “an emotional piece” to working at the school, he says, because of a sense that “we all belong here.”
Take, for example, the 80 senior mentors who coordinated freshman orientation activities, and will be back at school Monday morning to greet freshmen on their first day.
Then, in October, there's the traditional Homecoming parade, football game, bonfire and dance. Monaghan recently received a package in the mail of Glenbard athletic letters and other memorabilia from the widow of a 1942 graduate — one example of the connection alumni have with their school.
And there's the involvement of parent groups like the Boosters, Glen Ellyn Youth Center board, Association of Music Parents, and Friends for Forensics Foundation.
Like Coughlin, Monaghan officially started as principal July 1 and has been making preparations since then for the first day of school.
“I'm very excited about it personally,” he said. “I can't believe it sometimes. When I drive up to this school, it's hard for me to fathom. I have to be a little bit careful about that because I don't want to psych myself out. I have emotions that go somewhere between being very excited and also really having some trepidation that has a direct relationship to the responsibility of being in this position — 2,300 kids walking in here every day and close to 180 staff.
“I have a huge appreciation of that responsibility.”
A major goal Monaghan says he's focusing on is closing a minority student achievement gap. Overall, he says, the school has “very impressive numbers” with its graduation rate, ACT scores, performance on Advanced Placement tests and attendance rate, but there's still some students who aren't performing at the same academic levels.
“We have an achievement gap, and we need to do better to make sure when all of our students are finished with four years here, they're all ready to take on a meaningful postsecondary experience,” Monaghan said.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.