The man chosen to be the second principal in Metea Valley High School's history began his career as an actor on "The Cosby Show" and "Saturday Night Live," but for the past 22 years has played the role of educator.
Darrell Echols, 49, is set to succeed retiring Metea principal Jim Schmid, pending Indian Prairie Unit District 204 school board approval today. Teaching wasn't Echols' original aim as he studied theater arts in college, but he found it was a "natural fit" when substitute teaching jobs began coming more easily and frequently than TV auditions in New York City.
"I just seemed to connect with kids, and I thought it would be a nice thing to do while I was waiting for my big break," Echols said.
He eventually moved to the Chicago area with his wife, went back to school for a teaching certificate from Northeastern University and began working in suburban schools in 1992.
Administrators are recommending Echols step up to a high school role from his position leading Hill Middle School as principal since 2010. He also spent seven years as a middle school teacher in the district and served as dean of students at Waubonsie Valley High School. In that role, he worked under Schmid, who became Metea's first principal when the school opened in 2009 in Aurora.
"He always told me that one day he saw me in a principal role," Echols said about Schmid, whose name is set to become the namesake of Metea's baseball field.
Echols said he already knows the assistant principals at Metea and he plans to prepare for his new role by holding meetings with department leaders, PTA members and others involved with the school. His focus as principal can be summed up by two concepts:
"I'm about two things and that's student learning and excellence," Echols said. "Those will be the cornerstones I try to build."
Superintendent Kathy Birkett called Echols, who has master's and doctorate degrees in educational leadership from Aurora University, a "student-focused educator."
"Darrell is a strong communicator who will work well with Metea Valley's great staff, students and parents," Birkett said in a written statement.
The school board is schedule to approve Echols' appointment at 7 p.m. today at the Crouse Education Center, 780 Shoreline Drive, Aurora.
Echols said he plans to spend plenty of time in the hallways with students, talking with them and motivating them to learn.
"I enjoy talking with the kids and parents, even in tough situations," he said.
The Aurora resident has two daughters of his own, the younger of whom graduated in 2009 from Waubonsie Valley, and two grandchildren, so he has plenty of practice connecting with kids.
"That's natural for me to say 'Hey, man, we've got to get to class. It's learning time, let's make it happen,'" he said. "Normally kids respond well to that."