Congress Park School in Brookfield has a new principal this year, its fourth in the past five years. The new principal is 36-year-old Terry Dutton, who comes to Congress Park after four years as the principal of Cloverdale School in Carol Stream.

Dutton was chosen from a field of more than 100 applicants for the position which became open when Michele Ramsey, who had led Congress Park for the past two years, resigned to become the principal at an elementary school in Elk Grove Village, closer to her home.

“He was the shining star above all the other candidates,” said LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 superintendent Warren Shillingburg said of Dutton. “He’s very confident, he’s very knowledgeable. He has a lot of knowledge about the curriculum and student learning.”

Shillingburg acknowledged that the turnover in the principal’s position at Congress Park in recent years has been more than he would like.

Dutton grew up in Oak Park and didn’t plan to be a teacher at first. In college, he first majored in forestry then switched to psychology and, later, to social work. He took some time off of school and hiked half of the Appalachian Trail, about 1,000 miles from Georgia to Pennsylvania, with a friend.

When he went back to school at University of Illinois at Chicago, a friend who was a third-grade teacher at a Chicago public school invited him to visit her classroom and watch her teach.

“I was there for about five minutes before I realized that this is what I should be doing,” said Dutton last week in an interview in his office. “It was a big ‘ah ha’ moment. I thought, dummy, how did you miss this; this is for you. I just immediately knew that this was the profession for me.”

Dutton switched his major to elementary education.

When he graduated from UIC, he got a job teaching fourth grade at Oakbrook School in Wood Dale. After three years there he moved on to Lincoln School in Glen Ellyn for two years, also teaching fourth grade, before he was hired as an assistant principal at Windsor School in Arlington Heights.

Dutton said that he was quickly drawn to administration.

“I felt myself getting more and more involved in things beyond my classroom in different committees and groups, and really just kind of found myself expanding beyond the classroom,” Dutton said.

Dutton said that he places great importance on listening, and says that he asks a lot of questions

“Listening and understanding on my part is really the key to making good decisions, so I try to work really closely with teachers and parents so I can understand all the components of what’s happening before I really make judgments or decisions,” Dutton said.

He sees his role as one of supporting teachers.

“To me the greatest factor in a school is the people, and so when you have teachers who have the support that they need, I think that you see that kids thrive,” Dutton said.

Last year, Congress Park made annual yearly progress (AYP) guidelines of the federal No Child Left Behind Law after missing for two straight years in certain subgroups after Ramsey put great emphasis on reading. Dutton plans to continue that and hopes to keep the momentum going.

Dutton says he likes Congress Park’s close-knit sense of community.

“What I’ve noticed about Congress Park is that it’s a great parent community,” Dutton said. “We’ve had lots of parents in here the past few days with their kids, and it’s always great for me to have those first interactions and be able to let people put a face with my name when they see me at the school,” Dutton said.