Brooks' new principal clear on challenges

? Sindelar asks for time to establish positive climate at middle school.

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By DREW CARTER

Supporters of former Brooks Middle School Principal Flora Green repeatedly dubbed the effort to remove her from the post as racially motivated.

Does that concern Tom Sindelar, the newly hired Brooks principal who's white?

"Not at all," he said last week in a telephone interview. Parents at Brooks all want the same thing?#34;someone with the best approach and best intent for their children.

"That is my intent. That is my mission and I just need a little bit of time to prove that," he said.

Glenn Brewer, a Brooks parent who said Green often didn't get the benefit of the doubt when it came to how perceptions of management style might be colored by race, said people "are generally a lot more forgiving than they're given credit for sometimes."

He hopes the Brooks community judges Sindelar on his merits.

"I'm going to be among those folks who say, 'I have to trust the people who selected this principal had the best intentions of all the parents and students in mind,' and see how he performs," Brewer said.

One complaint raised in a consultant's report about Brooks was the principal's lack of visibility in the school and at after-school functions. Sindelar plays piano accompaniment for music students' solos and sits in with the band on trumpet.

"It kinda breaks down some of the distance between the adults and the students," he said.

Sindelar has read the past articles about Brooks, and understands a "healing of sorts" may be ahead for the school. But he doesn't want to form any preconceptions.

"I tend to be an objective kind of person," he said. "I want to experience [Brooks] before I commit this to an opinion."

The first step is to develop a very positive and healthy culture and climate, and lead based on the vision of the district.

Sindelar is familiar with the ongoing Critical Issues process at Brooks, and used a similar school improvement process at previous schools he served.

"I look to fit in very smoothly" to the Brooks process, he said.

Sindelar was trained by the Illinois State Board of Education as an internal reviewer in the improvement process while principal of a River Grove elementary school. He did site visits at other schools, but used some of the techniques at his own, too. As things changed, the process was no longer in place, but he kept many of the major ideas when he became principal at Golf Middle School in Morton Grove.

When Brooks parents brainstormed ideas of what a new principal there should be, one characteristic voiced was being able to take criticism?#34;"bulletproof" one parent said.

"I don't think anybody in education is exempt from [criticism]," Sindelar said. Part of the job is to help inform stakeholders so it doesn't look like decisions are coming out of thin air, he said.

His philosophy on discipline is for expectations to be "very clearly stated and clearly understood right from the very beginning." He's not big on punitive measures, but students have to take responsibility for their actions and there have to be "logical consequences," he said.

That's part of why Sindelar likes working with middle school-age kids.

"They're old enough to have that kind of dialogue, but young enough to still mold into contributing members of society," he said.

Sindelar was looking for a new job to shorten his 90-mile daily round trip to Morton Grove from his Tinley Park home.

"I just think there are better ways to spend your time rather than sitting on I-294," he said.

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 intrigued him with its mission and philosophy, particularly in regard to "essential learner qualities."

He was "very inspired" by the vision of preparing middle school students to be socially responsible citizens, effective communicators and collaborative co-workers.

Sindelar will be paid $98,062 in the first year of his three-year contract.

Mann Elementary School parents are happy for their former principal, Carol Young, who was selected to become the next Whittier Elementary principal. They just would have liked a better chance to properly say goodbye.

"It's disappointing to the Mann community that this process had to happen so quickly and dramatically at the end of the year when we believe it could have been addressed much earlier," said Catherine Rison, Mann PTO co-president.

The district has known about the Whittier opening for at least two years, as retiring principal Paula O'Malley would have had to have put the district on notice that far back.

"There's been rumor-blacktop-parent discussion for the last two months of school, and confirmation was received almost literally the last day of school," Rison said. "And the community felt they didn't say goodbye appropriately."

District spokeswoman Gail Crantz said the Whittier process was delayed by the hiring of incoming Supt. Connie Collins, and by her inclusion in the process, as Collins needed to balance making final recommendations on principal hires with her full-time position as superintendent of Zion elementary schools.

Despite the 11th hour announcement of Young's switch, Mann parents and the district are moving ahead to hire a new principal there. Tonight begins an abbreviated process of gathering parent input on a new principal. Despite a process starting mid-summer and on short notice, many Mann parents showed interest in participating.

"We were surprised by the number of parents, even with the abbreviated process, who wanted to be part of it," Rison said. She expected 20 to 30 parents would be involved in the interview process.

Tonight at district headquarters an interview team of select parents and teachers will meet candidates for the post. Also any parent who wants to participate will be allowed to do so, but only the select group will be able to sit at the interviewing table.

Parent and teachers interviewing the candidates submit recommendations on each to the district, and do not actually choose a new principal.

Young returning to educational roots

Former Mann Principal Carol Young will return to Whittier as principal, where she served 12 years as a teacher and one year as an administrative intern. She also helped expand multiage classes there.

She "felt compelled" to apply for the Whittier post, and said that her skills suited her for the job.

"I really believe being a principal is a big service job, giving back to our community," Young said. Her special education and regular ed backgrounds help, as Whittier is also the home school for kids from Hephzibah.

"That's a tough population that requires a lot of good communication and good skills," she said. "I wouldn't say one [principalship] is harder than another, it's just different."

Young said she will spend a year at Whittier reacquainting herself with teachers, parents and students before proposing any changes.

Young has lived in Oak Park since 1981, sent her children to Beye, and "embraces all aspects of Oak Park."

?#34;Drew Carter

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