The new principal hired to begin next fall at Field-Stevenson School, Dr. Tiffany Brunson, was in the Chicago newspapers last week when protesting parents staged a sit-in at Brian Piccolo Specialty School in Humboldt Park where she currently works as interim principal. Chicago Public School officials had announced that Piccolo was on the list of 10 schools that CPS was closing. Last week the school board made it official.
It wasn’t news to Brunson who had been told in November that Piccolo was on the turnaround list. But it wasn’t happy news since Brunson had just arrived at the school last fall to attempt a turnaround on her own terms.
“CPS told us on Nov. 28 (2011) that the school was going to be turned around,” she said. Brunson had just started last August, replacing a previous principal who was removed. “CPS has a way they do things. They come into the building and there’s a script they read to you and your staff. They say, whatever your contract says, on June 30 you no longer have a job.”
Parents found out Feb. 17, and staged a sit-in at the school demanding that CPS change its fate. They moved into the school and demanded to speak with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to try to influence the CPS decision to overhaul the school and re-staff it through the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). But by Feb. 22, the fate of the school had been decided. Parents told media that the new principal (Brunson) was the reason they thought the school was improving.
“I had started in August and I was trying to create some stability. I was the third principal in eight years and I was trying to change the school’s culture and its identity,” said Brunson. Part of her plan had been to create a parent-room at the school where visiting parents could use computers. She also set up English as a second language classes for parents. But she knew after the visit from CPS brass that the school had very little chance of remaining intact.
Brunson heard about the District 91 principal vacancy in December and applied for the job. She knew Forest Park after having taught special education at Oak Park and River Forest High School for six years starting in 2001, becoming the special education department chair and working as President of the African American Advisory Council while earning her Ph.D. in education administration from Loyola University.
“I enjoyed working in Oak Park and I wanted to look in the surrounding suburbs,” she said.
Her first administrative job in 2007 was assistant principal at Dodge Renaissance Academy, at 2650 W. Washington Blvd. on the city’s West Side. But within a year she was recruited to help start a new school through Arne Duncan’s Renaissance 2010 initiative: V.O.I.S.E. Academy High School, 231 N. Pine Ave., in the old Austin High School building.
“We got that school off the ground, focusing on technology,” she said. Students got individual laptops and the teachers created a “hybrid model” that combined online and computer classes with one-on-one instruction. She also taught as an adjunct professor at National Lewis University in the Teach for America program.
She says she had a choice between looking for a career path in CPS, possibly in administration. But she said she wanted to stay around children.
“I wanted kids in my building. I wanted to know their parents.”
Brunson is taking a pay cut from her time at CPS, said District 91 Superintendent Dr. Lou Cavallo. Her salary will be $115,000 per year.
Brunson says she’s looking forward to starting at D91. “I always say ‘the mission of a school is to make children’s dreams come true. We, the teachers and administrators are the dream catchers.'”