Changes a-plenty are coming to Parker Junior High School.
When students return to Parker later this week, they’ll find a substantially larger building. With the completion of a $7.5 million renovation project, the school has eight additional classrooms, new science and art rooms and a first-ever outdoor learning area. All in all, Parker has added 13,000 square feet, most of which will be teaching areas.
Parker also has new student entrances and a greatly expanded bus drop-off and pick-up area. School Street in front of Parker has been designated as a student drop-off area and parking will be prohibited on the south side of the street for one hour each morning.
Changes are also coming this year to Flossmoor District 161 discipline procedures and they are likely to make a difference at Parker.
David Kennedy, the school’s principal since July 1, knows he also represents change at Parker.
An 18-year education veteran, Kennedy says he is learning new things about Parker every day. And he is taking steps to bolster Parker’s relationship with the Flossmoor community.
“For me, the first year has to do with establishing good relations with the staff, with students, with parents and the rest of the community,” he says.
A native of downstate Ottawa, Kennedy was principal of Jerling Junior High School in Orland Park for the last three years. He has been a junior high and high school administrator for the last 10 years. Before that he was a social studies teacher and has also coached volleyball, basketball and baseball.
About 870 students are expected at Parker when classes resume on Friday. Sixth graders from District 161’s four feeder schools are coming to Parker for the first time. Kennedy also knows that the junior high years are full of changes, and can be difficult.
“Junior high kids are going through a lot,” he says. Bodies are rapidly changing and hormones are kicking in. “They are becoming young adults and they are trying to find their niche.”
In addition, students are coming from the self-contained world of elementary school to a place where you move from room to room throughout the day. They are faced with an entirely new level of socialization.
“Our goal is to help them make the transition as smoothly as possible,” Kennedy says.
This year, for the first time, Parker students will have separate entrances and exits for each grade. Two bus lanes will now be located just east of the school building. These are steps designed to reduce congestion at the start and end of the school day, Kennedy said.
A security guard will also be posted at the corner of School Street and Douglas Avenue during morning drop-off and afternoon dismissal, Kennedy said. He is asking parents if they are interested in volunteering as monitors following dismissal. Monitors may be stationed in Leavitt Park and possibly at the Flossmoor Public Library, two spots where students often congregate at the end of the school day. During this week’s schedule pick-up, parents were asked if they wanted to volunteer as monitors; Kennedy said some have already said they’re interested.
Kennedy has met with the library director regarding partnerships that might take place with Parker and its students. He said they discussed the possibility of tutoring programs at the library and some enrichment programs that might take place.
“We want to make sure that our students are properly representing Parker when they are in the library,” he said.
District 161 is moving toward what is being called a balanced approach to discipline, one that emphasizes the importance of positive relationships between students and teachers and other school staff. Earlier this summer, district officials conducted a town hall meeting focusing on how to best solve discipline questions in the local schools.
“We need to make sure some students don’t disrupt the learning that goes on here,” Kennedy said. “There may be times when actions have consequences, and students need to know that. But we mostly want students to make good decisions, and to choose the best options.”
Kennedy said he wants Parker students to be proud of their school.
“I want them to look at the school in a positive fashion,” he said. “We need to make this as good a place as it can be.”
Kennedy took over the Parker principal’s office from longtime District 161 teacher and administrator Lynn Westerlund, who retired this summer. He said he has gotten invaluable assistance during his first few weeks from Parker’s two assistant principals – Bruce Nieminski and Bruce Brozynski.
“The two Bruces,” he said, “have been phenomenal.”