The new leadership at George Washington Middle School in Lyons, which serves the southeast quarter of Brookfield, seems to have gotten off to a strong start this school year.
With a new principal and two new assistant principals at the helm, incidents of student misbehavior resulting in disciplinary measures were down by more than 50 percent in September compared to one year ago.
In September 2017 there were 46 incidents that resulted in disciplinary measures resulting in detentions or suspensions, but this year there were only 18 such incidents.
New GWMS Principal Don Jones said that he is pleased with those results.
“The goal is to keep students in class,” Jones said. “Anytime students are being suspended, whether it’s out of school or in school, they’re missing instruction time.”
But Jones remained cautious, saying that things can always change and didn’t want to take too much credit for what seems to be an improvement in the atmosphere at GWMS.
“We have great kids here but anything can happen,” Jones said. “Kids make good and bad decisions and everything is a learning experience.”
Jones has emphasized having teachers and other staff being in the hallways during passing periods to make sure that nothing gets out of hand and that students see and engage with staff.
“The word of the year is ‘visibility,'” Jones said. “A lot of your discipline can be reduced simply by being visible.”
Jones and the two new assistant principals, Rubi Ortiz and Gary Wheaton, make it point to be present in the halls during passing periods as much as possible, and they are also visible in the cafeteria during lunch and are out and about both before and after school.
“It helps to build relationships when you see the kids consistently,” Jones said. “We see that before school, in the cafeteria, and I see them before school at practice.”
Krystal Steiner, a Brookfield resident the parent of a seventh-grader at GWMS, said that her son says that there seems to be more order at GWMS this year.
“My son has had a great year; hopefully, the changes have made a difference,” said Steiner, who served on the committee that interviewed Jones and other finalists for the principal’s job after former Principal Christopher Cybulski was not rehired last spring in a controversial 4-3 vote by the District 103 school board.
Co-Interim Superintendent Patrick Patt said he has been at GWMS frequently this year and is impressed by what he has seen during passing periods.
“I have never once felt the need to tell any kid knock it off, you don’t do that,” said Patt who began his career as a middle school teacher and principal. “That to me is amazing because you’ll have five, six, seven hundred kids flowing by you and they’re just motivated to go to the next class.”
Patt has been impressed by Jones, who is only 31 years old, and came to GWMS after serving for a year as a special education coordinator at Joliet West High School.
“This is one of the best young administrators I’ve seen in my career,” Patt said. “This guy is really good.”
Unlike in past years when one assistant principal would largely be responsible for discipline, both Ortiz and Wheaton handle disciplinary matters.
“They both do discipline and I jump in as well,” Jones said. “They’re firm but fair, which is what I want.”
Ortiz, 35, came to GWMS after working for the Chicago Public Schools for a little over a decade, most recently serving as an International Baccalaureate Director at Edwards Elementary School in the southwest side of Chicago.
Wheaton, 49, came to GWMS after serving for six years as an assistant principal at Memorial Junior High School in Lansing after starting his career as a band director and music teacher.
Last spring the school board angered many GWMS teachers by voting 4 to 3 not to rehire Cybulski after two years as GWMS principal.
More than 30 GWMS parents attended the school board meeting when Cybulski’s contract renewal was voted down, and before the vote a number of them implored the board to rehire Cybulski.
“Some of the teachers are still kind of peeved that Mr. C is gone,” Steiner said.
Cybulski has landed a new job as the principal of Shepard Middle School in Deerfield.
Former GWMS assistant principals Cathy Eichhammer and James Leahy have moved on to other jobs in the district.
Eichhammer was transferred to a newly created position as assistant principal at Lincoln Elementary School and Leahy, who served most of last year as an interim assistant principal, moved back to his old job as a physical education teacher at GWMS.
There are also 14 new teachers this year at GWMS.