12:50 PM

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?



Who made the world? 
Who made the swan, and the black bear? 
Who made the grasshopper? 
This grasshopper, I mean- 
the one who has flung herself out of the grass, 
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, 
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down- 
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. 

Summer 2009.

I was nervous…

I asked my wife to pick out a suit for me that day -- and if you know me at all, you know that is not normal behavior. I was really trying to look the part of my new role of school principal back then. All of the new principals at the Gleacher Center for training that day looked nervous. How could you not? None of us really knew what we were getting ourselves into.

Jay Lalley, the founding principal at Northside College Prep and a former English teacher, read Mary Oliver’s poem ‘The Summer Day’ and I remember it clearly. It was inspiring:

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. 
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. 
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

Hamilton was put on the closing/phase out list by Arne Duncan in January 2009 and probably survived for two reasons - Mr. Duncan left to become Education Secretary and a passionate group of Hamilton parents somehow convinced Chicago Public Schools to take Hamilton off the list.

Duncan’s replacement Ron Huberman was not the CEO for very long, but his decision to take Hamilton off the list allowed our school to flourish.

209 students were enrolled in 2008-2009.
475 students today.

40 students from Hamilton's attendance area in Fall 2008.
159 this year.

Thanks Mr. Huberman!

I do know how to pay attention, 
how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, 
how to be idle and blessed, 
how to stroll through the fields, 
which is what I have been doing all day. 

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I love to build things and Hamilton was the perfect place to build. I spent 12 hours a day at Hamilton that first summer throwing out thirty years of ‘treasures’. Each morning the janitors groaned when they saw the large pile of garbage outside rooms. Someone even called the network office to report I was throwing out valuable stuff!


 This room is now the counselor’s office.

Do you recognize the library?


DSC_0475.JPG
Main office. Note Karla McReynolds in the picture. She didn’t work at Hamilton then, but spent hours that summer helping me.

The first few years were difficult but exhilarating. At the end of my first year, a veteran teacher asked if she could meet with me. She said, “I love the direction of the school and am amazed by the new teachers. I am going to retire - it’s not for me.” It was a tremendous compliment which proved we were on the right track.

We have done so much at Hamilton to be proud of:

  • Hamilton is fully inclusive. 
  • Hamilton is family and student friendly - PDF! 
  • We have built a garden, dance studio, turf field, a playground, installed a climbing wall, created a maker lab, renovated the gym and science lab. 
  • Hamilton’s teachers are exceptional. They are the ones ultimately responsible for our success.
  • Our community cares - each year you show generosity for each other as well as other school communities. 
  • We have been ahead of the curve on student health and wellness and computer science. We are a 1:1 computing site this year. 
  • Thirty minutes of recess each day. 
  • Our students have a well rounded arts education - visual arts, dance and music. 
  • Amazing parent volunteers staff our library -- and it is one of the best in the city. 
  • The Hamilton Action Team raises more and more money each year to support our students 
  • Our students who LOVE to come to school each and every day. I am serious.
We built this amazing school together -- Thank You!

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I am not seeking a third contract at Hamilton for two reasons:
  • I need a new challenge professionally.
  • Hamilton needs a new leader to build upon our success and ‘fix’ some of the things we have not completed yet. 

Good leaders know when it is time to move on and I believe it is my time. As many of you know, I bleed scarlet and gray and something Ohio State coach, Urban Meyer said in 2012 resonates with me, Building takes passion and energy," Meyer says. "Maintenance is awful. It's nothing but fatigue.”

Hamilton’s next leader will build upon our success with passion and energy. I am sure of it and I am counting on you to demand it.

Please do not read my departure as a statement against the Chicago Public Schools. My kids go to Hamilton and my wife is a CPS teacher. I have been a CPS employee for 15 years and there is a good chance I will still be a district employee next July.

There are however many things the district must improve to attract and retain principals.

I have not been shy about sharing these ideas with CPS leadership and the Mayor during a meeting last May.

Principals must have predictable budgets in order to be successful

In August, 2007 Arne Duncan told principals to not send kids to Springfield on field trips because of the inequitable funding system in Illinois.

Nothing has changed! 

Do enough of our leaders in Springfield have the political will to do what is right for all children in Illinois? I am not sure...

Without predictable budgets, CPS principals are placed in an incredibly tough position each and every year. I recall being on Spring Break in 2010 anxiously awaiting my school budgets yet!

Principals now routinely get budgets in June and July. Principals need stable budgets early enough in order to plan, compete with suburban districts during hiring season and take worry-free vacations.

You can’t do the job alone 

This job has become more complex each year. It is imperative for school leaders to have someone to share the job with -- assistant principals. School leaders should not be forced to justify the need for an assistant principal position each budgeting season. Yes, the district is facing difficult financial times, but every single principal I have spoken to agrees -- having an assistant principal is non-negotiable.

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What’s next for me? 

My mom died this year after a short bout with cancer. When I visited her home for the first time after her death, I was amazed to see large piles of boxes and envelopes with names on them. Unbeknownst to my siblings, my mom had spent the last six months of her life tying up loose ends, and making sure things were easier for us.

I am not dying anytime soon, BUT I will spend the next six months tying up a few loose ends and ensuring the transition to the next principal is smooth.

As for what is next for me professionally, I’m not sure -- I do not currently have a job lined up after I finish out the year at Hamilton.

Teacher? Superintendent? Banker? Consultant? Principal? Stay at home dad? Podcaster?

If you have a job opportunity, contact me! I love to build things.

Tell me, what else should I have done? 
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? 
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with 
your one wild and precious life?
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