When classes start at Flossmoor Hills School in August, Haley Marti, the incoming principal, will feel the thrill a new school year brings. Unlike most new administrators, she will also feel the confidence that comes with experience thanks to a unique mentoring program developed by her predecessor, outgoing Principal Patricia McCraven.
When classes start at Flossmoor Hills School in August, Haley Marti, the incoming principal, will feel the thrill a new school year brings.
Unlike most new administrators, she will also feel the confidence that comes with experience thanks to a unique mentoring program developed by her predecessor, outgoing Principal Patricia McCraven.
The program, approved by Flossmoor District161 school board members nearly two years ago, was originally McCraven’s idea. As she thought about retiring and passing along Flossmoor Hills School to a new administrator, something kept gnawing at her. It was a problem McCraven had been discussing with other members of the District 161 administration.
“In trying to have a growth mindset — and that’s what it should be all about — we realized we have some great local talent in our school district, but they didn’t have the experience they needed, and because of that, it would be difficult for them to get jobs as administrators,” McCraven said. “We invested so much in these people, and they would end up leaving. So we thought, ‘What can we do differently so that we can grow our own?’”
McCraven had an idea and with the approval of former Superintendent Craig Doster, she began to craft a mentorship program that would allow a district staff member to take the job as assistant principal at Flossmoor Hills and work toward applying for the principal’s job in two years, at McCraven’s retirement.
The board of education approved her plan in May 2016 and began its search for an assistant principal. McCraven and other administrators had their eye on one particular individual.
Marti and McCraven—a match made in heaven
At the time, Haley Marti was Flossmoor Hills’ instructional coach, responsible for working with teachers on best practices to optimize student achievement. From the first days when she started in the district as a teacher at Serena Hills Elementary, Marti knew McCraven, who was a special education administrator at the time. The two had reconnected now that they both were at Flossmoor Hills.
Marti said she was impressed by McCraven from the start, and has looked up to her ever since.
“I thought she was so knowledgeable, completely organized, data-driven and she knew the students very well,” said Marti, whose husband, Kyle Marti, is an industrial technology teacher at Parker Junior High.
When she heard about McCraven’s mentorship program, Marti applied and was awarded the assistant principal’s position. Since then, Marti and McCraven have worked closely for nearly two years as Marti learns all the small moving parts that must mesh together to make a school building work.
Under the terms of the mentoring program, there was no guarantee that Marti would be the next Flossmoor Hills principal. The school board still had to select McCraven’s successor. Late last year, Marti applied for the principal’s job and was awarded the position by the board in January.
As they move into the final stretch of their official relationship, Marti feels ready to take on her new role and McCraven has the confidence that she’s leaving her school in good hands.
Putting together principal puzzle pieces
The first step in the mentorship relationship was a space rearrangement. The assistant principal’s office at Flossmoor Hills was across the building from McCraven’s, while next to her was the nurse’s office. So, McCraven decided to swap the offices and have her new assistant principal right on the other side of the wall.
“I needed her right next to me. If something happened, I needed her to hear it and see how I responded. Then I’d ask her how she would have responded and we’d talk it out,” McCraven said.
This close collaboration has been a hallmark of their partnership over the past several months. Typically, McCraven explains, the assistant principal works fairly independently of the principal, focusing mostly on discipline issues. However, Marti’s role was to be by McCraven’s side, observing and learning first, and then eventually taking on tasks herself. This type of hands-on immersion training was valuable to Marti’s training as an administrator, she said.
“As a new principal, you make a lot of decisions and problem-solve,” Marti said. “Under the mentorship program I know that when I’m making decisions, I’ll be more thorough. I’ve thought things through and I’ve had the experiences with Pat. I’ve seen all the different steps.”
A strong commitment to open communication and humility has also been integral to the success of the mentorship. Marti, of course, learned a tremendous amount from McCraven, and McCraven has given Marti room to make some of her own decisions and imprint her own style on aspects of the school.
The story of an unlikely administrator
Marti said she also appreciates what she’s learned about special education from McCraven, whose pre-administrative career was focused on that academic field. After spending years in the district as a speech pathologist, McCraven became a leader in bringing new methods to the district to improve educational interventions for students in need.
She was encouraged at the time by then-Superintendent Donna Joy to climb the administrative ladder and apply to be the special education case manager. McCraven said she had never considered going for an administrative job.
“Two days out of graduate school, I started here. I thought I would stay here for two years,” she said. “When you’re 23, you don’t think you’ll stay somewhere for 30-something years, but I loved everything that was happening in the district and decided to stay.”
After five years as a case manager, she became principal at Flossmoor Hills and now, five years later, she’s getting ready to hand over the reins to Marti.
Gratitude for time well spent
Over the course of their mentorship, McCraven has infused the same edifying spirit that spurred her own growth as an administrator. It’s something that has amazed Marti, who counts herself lucky to have McCraven as a mentor.
“When I first came into this position, I felt blessed to be part of this program,” Marti said. “I remember asking, ‘Why are you going to do this for me? This is going to take so much time.’ Pat believed in passing along leadership skills. She said people passed it along to her and all I owed her was to pass it along to future leaders.”
The time as assistant principal has given her the opportunity to build relationships with students, parents and staff, and Marti said she’s “ready to hit the ground running on July 1.”
On June 30, McCraven officially ends her role as principal, and she’s looking forward to a stress-free life of traveling, baking and spending time with her 91-year-old mother. Her sense of peace comes from knowing Marti will be running the school and that, during her time, she brought Flossmoor Hills to what she calls a level of excellence. The school ranks the highest in PARCC standardized testing among all buildings in the district, but testing isn’t McCraven’s only measure of success.
“Flossmoor Hills is a building that is in a wonderful position,” McCraven said. “The culture and climate is outstanding. The staff is great. We work as a team, and having a building that does that is amazing. To have students have growth occurring for them and to see that growth, and the parents being there. Everyone is working together to achieve success.”