After interviewing three candidates over the course of a two-hour closed-door session Monday night, Lane Tech’s LSC reconvened in open session, and the council’s chairman, Gary Gruenewald, moved to approve the selection of a new principal.
“Motion to offer a four-year contract to Dr. Christopher Dignam,” said parent representative Deborah Taus-Barth. To a unanimous chorus of “ayes,” the Lane Tech grad, former science teacher and now former assistant principal, was handed the reins to his alma mater.
At tradition-bound Lane Tech, 2501 W. Addison St., where staff and alum bleed myrtle and gold, the decision to promote from within was hardly a shock — outgoing principal Antoinette LoBosco also came from Lane’s AP ranks — with the council opting not to include outsiders such as Leslie Boozer, CPS chief of high schools for the North/Northwest Side Network, on the principal selection committee. Yet Dignam still registered genuine surprise at the moment of the announcement. Asked if he had imagined himself in the position as a high-schooler, he responded, “I never even met the principal when I was a student here.”
Having student taught at Lane, Dignam eventually joined the staff in 1999, teaching biology, chemistry and physics, where he found himself in the unique position of working alongside his mentor, James Keating. “He was the reason I went into teaching,” said Dignam. “He was a great influence on me.” So much so that Keating, who still teaches at Lane, was best man at Dignam’s wedding.
Named one of the school’s four assistant principals six years ago, Dignam more recently underwent the arduous process of becoming a CPS principal candidate, compiling a portfolio and undergoing rounds of interviews and exams. “That’s just to get into the [principal] pool,” he said.
According to Leroy Jarka, LSC faculty representative, Lane received four applications after posting the principal opening April 11; three were external. After LoBosco announced her retirement the Friday prior to Spring Break, the council met on Holy Saturday for principal selection training, whittled down candidates last week and prepared to conduct interviews this week. “This is a huge responsibility,” he said. “It’s a lot of work.”
With its large and diverse student population (4,000+ enrollment), standing as a selective enrollment school, new Academic Center for seventh- and eighth- graders, and proud athletic history as the “School of Champions,” Lane is a unique animal among Chicago’s high schools. The council was keen to identify the candidate who could not only meet the needs of Lane’s various stakeholders — parents, students, staff and the surrounding community — but present a clear vision for leading the school forward. “Dr. Dignam was the best,” said Taus-Barth.
It’s no secret that Dignam takes over the top spot at Lane as CPS enters a particularly challenging phase, and the council was clearly motivated to ensure a sense of continuity as the school changes administrations. “Lane runs so efficiently,” said Jarka. Council members weren’t about to jeopardize a smooth transition, though the speed at which they arrived at their decision seemed to catch many off guard. Only a handful of teachers and not a single parent attended Monday’s special call meeting. (A regular LSC meeting to introduce Dignam to the Lane community is scheduled for May 17.)
But Monday wasn’t a night to talk politics or to quiz the new principal about the longer school day, the privatization of education or a potential teachers’ strike. Instead, it was a night to call home with the best possible news and to celebrate one’s good fortune.
“I’m lucky to work at the place I love,” a still-dazed Dignam said. “I know every employees’ name, I know all the programs. It’s a place with every type of kid.”
To his nine-year-old twin daughters, Lane is downright magical. Said their father, the new principal-elect, “They think it looks like Hogwarts.”