New Amundsen HS Principal Strives To Change Public Perception

By Meryl Williams | Friday, October 12, 2012

(l to r) Amundsen HS Assistant Principal Kristi Eilers and Principal Anna Pavichevich. Credit: Meryl Williams

Freshly-minted Amundsen High School Principal Anna Pavichevich has a big challenge on her hands: In an area with no shortage of selective-enrollment magnet and college preparatory schools, how can school supporters take Amundsen from being an option for North Side high school students and making it the option?

Helping Amundsen, a neighborhood Chicago Public Schools high school, at 5110 N. Damen Ave., stand out from the crowd is one of her chief focuses during her first year as principal. Pavichevich took the job over the summer in a move that surprised some in the community. While Pavichevich was an outside hire, she was selected over rival candidate Brian Rogers, then-assistant principal at Amundsen.

However, LSC parent community representative Jeff Newman said that while Rogers may have been well-liked by teachers and staff, their support for him at least partially came out a fear of change.

“Teachers in particular are skeptical of administration, and if they have something they like, they don’t want to change it,” said Newman. “They quickly came around [to Pavichevich] once they saw what she was doing.”

Indeed, whatever skepticism may have been cast on her assuming leadership seems to have dispersed.

Pavichevich has been working hard toward addressing issues detailed in the Amundsen 2010-12 CPS SIPAAA planning report, including getting students to meet and exceed expectations in all subject areas, increasing quality professional development opportunities for staff, fostering a safe environment at school, and increasing average scores on the ACT, EPAS, and other standardized tests, among others. School Improvement Planning for Advancing Academic Achievement (SIPAAA) planning reports are the main planning document used by individual CPS schools and are prepared by principals in conjunction with Local School Councils.

Some areas in the report may be in need of outside assistance, such as the purchase of supplies, paying fees for student field trips, and other expenses.

“Every CPS school is underfunded right now,” said Pavichevich. “We need materials, we need resources, we need supplies. We need those with connections to labor, goods, and materials so we can improve the school environment.”

To this end, Amundsen will be hosting its first-ever community open house night Oct. 17. Pavichevich hopes community members will take the opportunity to tour the facilities and meet some of the students.

Some of this is happening already. She recently spoke with the Ravenswood Community Council about a possible partnership, and other community organizations have been in contact as well.

“There’s a movement in Lakeview, Edgewater, [and other areas where] parents are becoming really invested participants in their children’s education, and rightfully so,” she said. “We welcome that support and that investment.”

She said members of the community, even those without kids are stepping up to support Amundsen.

“We have a responsibility to the community to graduate college-ready kids who are productive members of society,” she said. “There’s a misconception about the school relative to safety culture and climate. This is a safe school. There are low incidences of violent events in this building. The students are really good kids.”

Newman praised Pavichevich for reaching out to the community in a way he feels her predecessor, Carlos Munoz, did not.

“For whatever reason, he wasn’t doing the community outreach things that need to be done by any school, but especially a neighborhood school,” said Newman. “[Pavichevich] is knocking on the door of the community: ‘You want to help? I got a list.’”

Newly-elected LSC parent representative Steve Johnson feels Amundsen may just be in need of some good PR.

LSC Member Jeff Newman and his son, Arlo. Credit: Meryl Williams

“Schools have a positive or negative reputation based on what you see or hear without actually knowing about the environment,“ said Johnson. “Amundsen needs pure public relations and community education in the neighborhood.”

Johnson feels like Amundsen competes strongly with other schools already in some ways for top students, and that the public should know it’s not a fall-back school: it’s a first-choice option.

“We want to send our kids there,” he said. “There’s a bunch of kids there because they are being bussed in from other neighborhoods because their parents cared enough to get them into a good neighborhood school.”

Fellow new parent representative Darinka D’Alessio agrees it is a responsibility of school supporters to dispel some damaging rumors.

“There’s a perception that CPS schools are terrible,” she said. “If you haven’t gone in and explored it, you won’t know what’s there.”

In terms of a long-term goal for Amundsen, Pavichvich knows it is a school on probation and that this must change.

“We are aware of the challenges of improving that data,” she said, referring to raising standardized test scores for the school and other improvements.

While specific numeric goals have not yet been set, she said administrators are examining them and the staff will be a part of setting future goals.

An unforeseen circumstance stood in Pavichevich’s path early on as well as the issues she knew of long before; however, the CPS strike in September was not as much of a wrench in the school year as some feared it might be.

“I am really surprised at how much traction we’ve made so quickly,” she said, adding, “But then again I’m not surprised, because of great staff and great students we have here.”

While admitting starting classes for a week and then being interrupted by the CPS strike was not ideal, she was never worried about the school regaining its stride.

“We were here, we planned and prepared all summer to open the school,” she said. “The first week was really smooth, and then to put the brakes on was a little frightening, but it’s now a distant memory.”

Newman feels Amundsen was less impacted by the strike, or its aftermath, than many other CPS schools.

“The strike was a speed bump for us,” he said. “Nothing more.”

Pavichevich said the community response she has received in her first weeks has been extremely positive.

“Everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive,” she said. “I am being contacted on a daily basis from members of the community and they want to know how they can help. That is incredibly gratifying.”

Assistant principal Kristi Eilers moved to Amundsen with Pavichevich after the two worked together on the network level.

“I never wanted to do education administration but if I ever did, it would be with her,” said Eilers of Pavichevich. “So when she asked me, I knew I wanted to go.”

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