MORGAN PARK — The GOP presidential debate wasn't the only candidate forum happening on Thursday evening.
A pair of candidates for vying for principal at Clissold Elementary School in Morgan Park also took the stage at 7 p.m. in the school's auditorium at 2350 W. 110th Place.
Kate Valente of Morgan Park and Sean McNichols of Mount Greenwood both addressed the crowd of parents, teachers and community members ahead of a question-and-answer session.
McNichols, a former baseball player at the University of Illinois Chicago, was first to address the audience.
He currently serves as assistant principal at John C Dore Elementary School in Clearing where he recently secured $7.2 million in funding to help alleviate overcrowding.
McNichols and his wife have four children who attend Mount Greenwood Elementary. He said he's motivated by his family and aims to bring a long-term vision to Clissold.
Valente is a graduate of Clissold. She also lives within the boundaries of the neighborhood school and sends her three children to her alma mater.
She is currently serving as assistant principal at George Washington High School in the East Side neighborhood and stressed her 19 years of teaching experience at both the elementary and high school level.
"I've even coached tennis, and I never played tennis in my life. But I did it because it needed to be done," Valente said.
Both candidates saw the Montessori program as a highlight at Clissold. All students at the school participate in the program through fifth grade.
McNichols hopes to strengthen the program by sharing best practices with other like-minded schools. He also plans to better market Clissold's Montessori program both in the neighborhood and throughout the city.
Valente has first-hand knowledge of the Montessori program and would like to see the program return to its roots while also satisfying the requirements of the Chicago Public School system.
"I think Maria Montessori would be rolling over in her grave if she knew how much testing we have to do here," she said.
Discipline was also an issue both candidates addressed in their opening remarks and during the question-and-answer sessions.
They both stressed their roles as disciplinarians in their current schools. Valente and McNichols said both their schools have large populations in small spaces, which can lead to conflict.
Valente stressed her reliance on a strong relationships with teachers in such situations. McNichols said many of the lessons he learned serving as a waiter also apply to school discipline - enter the situation, diffuse the conflict and leave everyone happy.
Sarah Gilligan of Morgan Park is president of the Local School Council, or LSC, at Clissold. She and others were surprised when outgoing principal Connie Grason stepped down the end of the year.
The search for a new principal has been a whirlwind experience, but the LSC hopes to have a candidate in place two weeks prior to teachers returning to the classroom on Aug. 30. Students return to classes on Sept. 8, Gilligan said.
Members of the LSC will vote to extend a contract to one of the two candidates at 6 p.m. on Monday in the school auditorium.
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