“It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s my favorite job of all the jobs that I’ve ever had,” said Cece Coffey of her role as principal of Homewood’s Churchill School.
She has been the leader at Churchill School for 15 years, and this year was awarded the South Cook Elementary Principal of the Year award by the Illinois Principals Association.
“The job really boils down to a lot of problem-solving and a lot of relationships and both of those things kind of feed my needs in the workplace. (The job) works to my strength, I think, and it makes every day incredibly interesting,” Coffey explained.
“I’ve never lost my attention span for this job. It checks all the boxes on my list.
“I get to work with kids and I get to work with parents and I get to work with teachers. They’re all very different groups, so no day is ever the same. It utilizes a lot of different skills and a lot of the same skills as well,” she added.
Colleagues and teachers in District 153 have learned much from Coffey who is often called upon to mentor others, lead training sessions and develop programs within the district.
“Cece has proven herself to be an incredible educator, advocate and leader,” District 153 Superintendent Dale Mitchell told the nominating committee. “Every professional decision she is required to make is resolved by looking through the lens of our school district philosophy: ‘What’s best for kids.’”
When Coffey was a student at Valparaiso University, she didn’t seriously think about a career in education. Others told her the world didn’t need any more teachers, and she remembers teaching didn’t pay well in the late 1970s.
“I was trying to follow the advice other people gave me and find something else that would be more lucrative or easier to get a job but I ended up where I think I was meant to be all along,” she said.
At the last minute, she declared as an elementary education major. She got her first teaching position in 1981, left for two years to work in business, and returned to the education field where she’s been ever since.
Coffey came to District 153 in 1988 and worked as a kindergarten and first grade teacher, and then as director of the Learning Center, her first position outside a classroom working with teachers on curriculum and assessments.
“Really the desire to do more administrative work came when I was working here as a Learning Center director. It allowed me to see that in that role I could impact more than just the 25 kids in my room,” Coffey explained.
She went back to school, first for a master’s degree in early childhood education from National Louis University and then a graduate certificate in administration from Loyola University.
Coffey left District 153 for two years to serve as assistant principal in Mokena District 159. When the principal’s position opened at Churchill in 2001, she got the job.
Mitchell said her work as principal also includes administrative council meetings, school data review, organizing programs for the community.
Coffey organizes a family fair that brings representatives from community organizations together to share information with families, and she helped establish and lead the Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) cultural diversity program for the district.
“She is always willing to share her thought processes behind making decisions, and her knowledge about various factors that impact student learning,” the superintendent said.
Coffey will retire from her career in June 2017. The decision to leave is “both exciting and terrifying at the same time.”
For now, District 153 staff will continue to learn from Coffey.
“We are scrambling over these next months to absorb as much knowledge as we can from her,” Mitchell said.