Isoye's first-year goal: reshape building's leadership

Superintendents: one year in

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

As principal of Maine East High School in Park Ridge, Steven Isoye had oversight of the school's academic division chairs, those important individuals within administration overseeing math, science and other academic departments.

That wasn't the case for the principal at Oak Park and River Forest High School, where Isoye was hired last year to serve as superintendent. Changing that structure within OPRF's building leadership was something Isoye felt needed to be done.

"There are a couple of reasons why, probably the most pressing is that in a couple of years, according to the state, principals (evaluation) will be tied to student achievement," said Isoye, who's finishing up his first full year under as superintendent of OPRF District 200—he officially started last July.

Isoye said the school was already undergoing some changes and initiatives when he arrived, but restructuring the building leadership was his undertaking. The high school is scheduled to hire a new assistant principal for curriculum this week. It's a new post that Isoye worked with Principal Nathaniel Rouse to create. The new hire will directly oversee the division chairs. And all staff involved in curriculum, including the new assistant principal, will fall under the purview of the principal. That is a change from the current structure where there is an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction who has reported to the superintendent.

Isoye believes that change makes sense and will positively impact student achievement.

"So you have your students, and the people who work the closest with your students are your teachers, and the people who work closest to them are your division heads. They are the closest to the teachers and students," he said. "And so, if the principal is going to be tied to how the students are doing then the principal really needs to be working with the people who are the closest to the students."

In the previous school year, under former superintendent Attila Weninger, OPRF hired five new division heads—math, English, library and media services, special ed, fine and applied arts. But Wenninger also looked to recast the department chairs to think of themselves more as administrators than advocates for their department. Isoye shares that view.

"What happens over time, and what we're going to see, are certain expectations that the state now says it wants on the principal," he said. "And the principal is going to sit down and talk to his staff and administrators and say, the expectation that's placed on me is now placed on all of us. So, it has to transition [and] that shift is happening."

Other plans are in store for the upcoming school year, Isoye said. Among the biggest change is the new semi-closed campus policy. The high school board last month voted to change the policy. Seniors and juniors will be allowed off campus during lunch under certain conditions.

Isoye admits that that will create certain logistical challenges, and that it would have been easier if the campus were closed to all students. But he said the school is focusing on how to proactively improve students' behavior rather than being reactive.

"There are more details and more I's to dot and T's to cross by going to a modified (policy) than if we just completely closed the campus. So, there are definitely more things for us to be aware of, to manage and to monitor," Isoye said. "We're ready to go in any direction and we understand what we're going to have to change."

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