Homewood District 153 will be saying good-bye to two long-time principals. Cece Coffey of Churchill School and Mary Ann Savage of Willow School will leave in mid-June. Generations of students will feel the impact of their initiative to improve reading in the district. The work at improving support programs for students is in place due to their efforts. The list could go on.
Homewood District 153 will be saying good-bye to two long-time principals. Cece Coffey of Churchill School and Mary Ann Savage of Willow School will leave in mid-June.
Generations of students will feel the impact of their initiative to improve reading in the district. The work at improving support programs for students is in place due to their efforts. The list could go on.
But it’s their openness to students that has given school a personal touch.
Coffey has a knack for remembering names. When students arrive for a new school year, she addresses each one.
“It’s a very powerful thing for anybody, but especially for kids, to have people know them and know their name,” she said.
Savage remembers the days when being called to the principal’s office usually meant trouble. She’s worked to change that with the kindergarten, first and second graders at Willow.
“We always encourage the teachers. If someone’s doing a good job, send them down and we’ll give them a sticker and tell them they’re doing a great job. That’s the relationship that you want with the kids. You want them to know you’re there to help them,” she said.
“What’s great about this age is that they truly love school. They adore their teachers. They’re happy. They come in smiling. They’re happy to come to school, and that just makes it fun to teach.”
Leaving will be extremely difficult for both Coffey and Savage, but they say now is the right time to step aside.
Coffey, who has been at the helm of Churchill for 16 years, said developing the 80-member staff “has been one of the biggest challenges and one of the most rewarding things” of her job.
“I’m most proud of the group of people we’ve assembled here. They’re the ones that make everything run. They’re the front line and they’re the people who present the education and the care that our kids receive every day.”
Coffey taught kindergarten, first and third grades in the district. She was the Learning Center director at Willow School before leaving for an assistant principal position in Mokena. She came back to District 153 when she was offered the Churchill principal’s job.
“This school has changed dramatically from when I first arrived,” she said. “The number and level of complexity of support programs have increased. That structure bears no resemblance to the building I took over in 2001” when there was one reading specialist who provided some extra support.
Today the district is doing one-on-one screening assessment for each student several times during the year, listening to them read for fluency and comprehension. The program is called Response to Intervention (RTI), giving resources to students early on.
“We’re doing that in kindergarten now. I think that’s incredible,” said Savage. “And curriculum is my passion, and it was great to be able to guide that process because the people that work here they take ownership and they always want to be sure that what they’re doing is the best. All you really have to do is guide the ship.”
Savage has been principal at Willow for 10 years. She started as a kindergarten teacher and technology teacher and coordinator at Infant Jesus of Prague School in Flossmoor. She moved to administrative positions in New Lenox, La Grange and Mount Prospect before coming to Homewood.
District 153 teachers spend time with their classroom students, but Savage said “now almost all the education is done in small groups so they know the kids so well. Differentiation used to be a challenge, but now it’s just the way they teach all the needs of all the kids.”
Being a teacher is a difficult job. It is much more than the school day.
“It’s hard and it’s draining, and in terms of tangible rewards there are few. The intangible rewards are unending,” Coffey said.
“It’s not just the physical workload you do, it’s the emotional toll (of the) 25 kids wrapping themselves around your heart,” she explained. “You leave here every day with all those kids in your head. You go to sleep with all those kids in your head, and you wake up every morning expecting, anticipating what’s going to happen.
“Their successes are the things that make you sing, and their heartbreaks and challenges are what keep you awake at night. It’s a very hard job, but for those people that have it in their hearts to do it and do it well, that’s the gift to our kids.”
Coffey and Savage know that what they’ve done over the years has been possible because of parents, the administration, teachers and school board.
“I do believe Homewood values its schools. That’s been evident many times in the past several years,” Savage said, “but I think it’s very important to be thankful for that.
“I think that education is the key to everything, and I think that in a community where you have strong schools, parents as active partners is the key to success.