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New Edgebrook Principal Signals Focus On Art, Literacy

By Alex Nitkin | August 10, 2017 5:56am
 Interim principal Camille Unger shows off the new art classroom at Edgebrook Public School, 6525 N. Hiawatha Ave.
Interim principal Camille Unger shows off the new art classroom at Edgebrook Public School, 6525 N. Hiawatha Ave.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

EDGEBROOK — For CPS principals, summer is usually the time for efforts to shield students and faculty from the district's annual volley of budget cuts.

But as Camille Unger prepares to take over as interim principal of Edgebrook Public School, 6525 N. Hiawatha Ave., she's focused on adding.

In the face of a 20-student enrollment dip that's forced her to cut two staff positions, Unger and her administration have managed to open a permanent art room and bring on a new science teacher, she said. Their next goal is to open a fully functional library, a basic resource that's nonetheless ambitious for a CPS elementary school.

"I'd like for us to have a nice school-wide library where kids can learn how to research and use books and really engage," Unger said. "Just building a community of people who really enjoy literacy is at the core of my beliefs."

She's stepping into her first-ever principal gig, having spent five years as a fifth-grade teacher at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy in Lakeview and another five as a CPS administrator overseeing 15 schools on the Far Northwest Side.

Former Principal Chad Weiden had shocked a devoted community of parents and teachers in May, when he announced that he'd end his four-year stewardship of Edgebrook Elementary to help launch a new school in South Carolina.

Unger said she "could never fill Mr. Weiden's shoes, or walk in his path," but she's already set about meeting one-on-one with each of the school's 24 teachers to pick up where he left off.

Despite the school's pair of layoffs — targeting a special education assistant and a language teacher for English learners — and loss of $124,000 in state funding compared to last year, its budget is being buoyed by an uptick in CPS money and by an active parent support group, Unger said.

And thanks to a gleaming school addition completed in 2012, the school is just 28 students beyond its district-marked capacity, making it spacious compared to the many nearby schools facing severe overcrowding.

Unger also hopes to lean on neighborhood groups for extra resources, she said. North Branch Arts has sponsored the school's new art facility, and the principal envisions staffing its library with volunteers from the Edgebrook Women's Club.

As interim leader, Unger will help Edgebrook's Local School Council land a permanent principal for 2018 and beyond. But she's eager to take on that position herself, she said.

"I think a lot about the kindergarten completion ceremony I watched at the end of last year," Unger said. "And as I watched those little ones cross the stage, I said 'I want to be here to watch them graduate."