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Senn Principal Candidates Vow To Rebuild Trust With Students, Parents

By Linze Rice | March 29, 2016 8:53am
 Kevin Gallick (l.), Mary Beck (top r.) and Jason Siegellak  present their visions for how to lead Senn High School if chosen as next year's contract principal.
Kevin Gallick (l.), Mary Beck (top r.) and Jason Siegellak present their visions for how to lead Senn High School if chosen as next year's contract principal.
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DNAinfo/Linze Rice

EDGEWATER — Mending broken trust and propelling the student body at Senn High School forward were among top talking points at Monday night's public principal candidate forum.

The three contenders — interim principal Mary Beck, Kevin Gallick, principal at George Washington High School in the East Side community, and Jason Siegellak, assistant principal at Hammond Elementary School in Little Village — answered questions submitted by the public on their vision if chosen to lead the neighborhood school at 5900 N. Glenwood Ave. for the 2016 school year and possibly beyond.

The search for a new principal at Senn comes after former principal Susan Lofton was ousted last year after an investigation by the Chicago Public Schools district's inspector general.

Reporter Linze Rice tells us about the selection process for a new principal.

A report from the watchdog found Lofton and two other Senn employees conspired to keep 15 special needs students out of the school's fine arts program by lowering admission scores.

For the 2015 school year, Mary Beck, a former Von Steuben High School assistant principal, was selected as interim principal.

Now, a Principal Selection Committee must choose who will take over the school.

All three candidates focused on transforming Senn into a "hub" of the community, increasing transparency and trust, trading in blanket punishments for restorative justice, and upping crucial metrics — like attendance and graduation.

Mary Beck, Interim Principal

Beck, who left Von Stuben High School last summer to take over Senn during a "tumultuous time," she said, vowed to put "trust" and growth at the forefront of her plan for the school.

She called the Edgewater community "amazing," and attributed the upward trajectory of the school to the collaborative dedication of the Senn community.

"I came to Senn with a plan, not an agenda," Beck said. "I think success at Senn for a long time had been attributed to one person, and that's not the case."

Since taking over in the fall, Beck said Senn has reduced out of school suspensions by 25 percent and would bolster the early inklings of a restorative justice program into a more substantive component of conversations and reflection rather than focusing on punishment.

She said not only would she encourage teachers to "trust themselves, and who they are and what they can achieve," as well as restore relationships with parents, students, community members, and neighboring elementary school principals.

"We needed to learn to trust each other," Beck said of first taking over Senn. "[Students] are going to be taken care of, they are going to be loved."

Beck distributed a plan for the school to achieve by 2020, which includes 70 percent of students holding a 3.0 grade point average or higher, computers for all, admittance into premiere programs by 25 percents, and a 90 percent college enrollment rate.

Dozens of community members showed up to meet and learn more about candidates vying to become Senn High School's next contract principal. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

Kevin Gallick, Principal At George Washington High School

Gallick, who got his start in teaching as a social studies teacher at Senn from 2003-09 and lived in Edgewater, also hit on the importance of supporting teachers, especially when the "political environment for teachers is not great."

That same principle applied to students, he said, emphasizing "equity is not just a dream," but it was possible for all students to achieve success when given the proper tools to do so.

In order to do that, gaps between what type of students were admitted into magnet and international programs needed to be closed, and more intentional inclusivity needed to be paid special attention.

Gallick said he'd also "break down the bonds of broken trust" still lingering at the school stemming from Lofton's tenure and removal.

"It can't just be a punitive system, we have to work with the students," Gallick said. "Senn has gone through some pretty dramatic changes and it probably left some scar tissue."

Jason Seigellak, Assistant Principal At Hammond Elementary School

Seigellak said he, too, would implement restorative justice practices at the school and creating an "open door policy" that fostered a "safe" environment for learning and growth.

"My views on discipline are no longer punitive, they're restorative," Gallick said. "When students feel safe and welcome with staff, students won't feel the need to act out."

Seigellak said he "always wanted to be a teacher" after seeing his mother have a career in the Chicago Public Schools system.

Increased enrollment in colleges and scoring higher on ACT tests were among his top priorities, as well as improving "honesty" and not shying from having "difficult conversations" when necessary.

Like Beck, Seigellak said he believed a strong network of teachers, parents, students, and outside resources were the best way to reach goals, and that "success is not built in a vacuum."

"I think if your heart is in the right place and you do what is in the best interest of the students, you really can't go wrong as a leader," Seigellak said. "I'm confident in my ability to foster change."