ROSCOE VILLAGE — With a year still left on his contract, Christopher Dignam is resigning his position as principal of Lane Tech College Prep High School, effective July 1.
Dignam notified staff via email early Thursday morning that he has accepted a new job as principal of Deerfield High School.
"It's a great opportunity for me to work in another district that's high performing," he told DNAinfo Chicago. "For me, it's a natural progression in developing as a leader."
In a statement posted Wednesday night to Deerfield's website, Township High School District 113 School Board President Marjie Sandlow said: “We were extremely impressed with Dr. Dignam’s inclusive, collaborative and interactive approach towards leadership in a high-performing high school.”
Dignam is the second principal of a Chicago Public Schools selective enrollment high school to leave CPS for a suburban district in recent years, following Barry Rodgers' departure from Northside College Prep in 2013.
Dignam said his decision to resign from Lane had nothing to do with the budget constraints imposed by per pupil funding, which cost the school millions of dollars and forced difficult decisions regarding staffing and course offerings.
"I've been successful navigating" the budget, he said, as well as finding solutions to new physical education mandates.
"I felt supported," he said of his relationship with CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, noting that he was a member of a principal advisory group that met with the school chief on a monthly basis.
His motivation to seek the Deerfield job owes more to his own competitive nature, Dignam said.
"It's another challenge for me," he said.
A graduate of Lane himself, class of 1988, Dignam was a student teacher at the school before joining Lane's faculty full time in 1999 as a science teacher. He spent six years as an assistant principal before being named to the top job in 2012. A number of new principals were hired that same year, as veteran administrators retired en masse in advance of changes to CPS pension benefits.
Dignam said he immediately set about freshening up what he called "antiquated programs," eliminating long-standing requirements such as drafting.
As a nod to Lane's roots as a technical school, Dignam said he looked for ways to introduce relevant 21st century tech into the curriculum, be it through computer science, STEM or the arts, including a course in sound engineering.
Among the initial goals he set: Raise Lane's composite ACT score and grow the advanced placement program.
"I wanted us to break 25," Dignam said of his ACT target. The test's maximum score is 36. "This school year, we started with 25.1, the highest in 106 years."
The number of AP exams taken by students jumped from 900 in 2012 to an expected 5,000 this May, with a 72 percent pass rate, he said.
"We've accomplished a lot of what I wanted to do," he said.
Though he's moving to a smaller school with strong academics — Deerfield's ACT composite is 26.9 — Dignam's new gig comes with its own set of issues. District 113, consisting of Deerfield and Highland Park high schools, lost both principals and its superintendent this school year.
Come fall, for the first time in decades, Dignam won't be headed back to school at 2501 W. Addison St.
"It's strange for me," he admitted. "I guess I get my final graduation."
Selection of a new principal at Lane Tech now falls to the Local School Council.
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