Note from The Fund team: At Durkin Park Elementary School, Principal Dan Redmond is about educating the entire community, not just students. Check out our Q&A to learn more about his passion for uplifting all the stakeholders in his school.
The Fund: You have served at the helm of Durkin Park Elementary School for over 10 years now. Tell us more about the history of your school.
Dan Redmond: Durkin Park is a very welcoming school. We started with 300 students and have over 600 students now, which reaches 650 when you count Pre-K. We’ve had a lot of transitions: new students, new parents and new teachers. When we have students transfer in, my assistant principal or I meet with them to tell them about the culture. They don’t have to be tough, they can relax and try to learn. When we first opened, the building we are in was a gifted school. They moved out because it was too crowded with 200 students. We moved in with 300 students in the same building. We are a neighborhood school, but the alderman was not happy with us because we took the place of one of the top-ranked schools in the state because they moved to a different ward in the city. We had a rough time getting our feet wet. However, we have won over the community and have a lot of community programs within the school in the evening. Most people in the community want to be in our school.
The Fund: You are passionate about making sure all stakeholders are engaged in a child’s education. How do you involve the parents and children outside of school hours?
DR: Most of our programs like Saturday Academy have been in place for years now. The kids love Saturday Academy and so do the parents. We offer discount courses in computers, sewing, language, math, reading, guitar and violin. We offer more than just academics, like folkloric dance and jazz dance. We only go from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. People can come and take part. If kids are struggling, we encourage them to take part in the extra math and reading, but when they finish, they have the whole day to do the fun things.
The Fund: Tell us more about yourself. How’d you get to be principal at Durkin Park?
DR: I started out teaching high school social studies and worked at a therapeutic day school with students with behavioral modification needs for five years. I went to Chicago Public Schools and taught in a grammar school for seven to eight years and decided it was time to move up a little bit and try my hand in administration. I applied to the LAUNCH program after getting my master’s and Type 75 at UIC. I didn’t get into LAUNCH the first time, but got in the following year. That led me into my first principalship. I’ll be starting my 13th year at Durkin Park this year.
The Fund: Wonderful! What does an average day as principal look like?
DR: I usually get here after the engineer around 6:15 to 6:30 a.m. so I can get an hour’s worth of work in before the building starts getting crowded. Every morning, I make it a point to greet the upper grade kids as they come in for half an hour from 7:30 to 8:00 a.m. on morning duty. Then I go around the school to make sure staff and teachers are where they need to be. I go back to the office and deal with what has come up in the morning like parents or networks. I meet with my assistant principal to figure out the rest of the day. We both do lunch duty and we pick up the buzz in the building, what happened in neighborhood, especially on Mondays. I visit classes and do paperwork in the afternoon then I meet with teachers. I then leave around 5:30 p.m.
The Fund: Last question…What pushes you out of bed so early in the morning? Why have you stayed in your role as principal for so long?
DR: The kids motivate me to come to work every day. I was a teacher for 23 years before deciding to be a principal. I met some very good and very poor administrators over the years and saw the difference a good leader can make. I wanted to be a good leader so that’s why I applied to LAUNCH. I wanted to learn from people who were already principal. I was a product of the 60s so I wanted to make ad difference in the world. I wanted to teach people.