Whitney Young assistant principal Mark Grishaber selected as new TAFT HS principal


Whitney Young assistant principal Mark Grishaber will become the new principal of Taft High School on July 1.

The Taft High School Local School Council unanimously approved the selection Grishaber, a former teacher at Saint Patrick High School, during a special meeting on June 12. Grishaber has said that he hopes to retire as Taft’s principal in 16 years if he is fortunate to have his contract renewed every 4 years.

The LSC plans to approve an addendum to Grishaber’s contract. The addenda can include performance goals which the council can take into consideration when conducting its annual evaluation of the principal.

“We feel confident that he will be an asset to Taft by bringing with him his passion for students, teachers and learning. Mr. Grishaber himself lives in the community a short distance from Taft High School and is as much interested in helping move our school and students forward as are we,” said LSC chairwoman Lisa Schwieger.

The other finalists for the position, which was created when Mary Kay Cappitelli resigned in April due to medical reasons, were Taft acting principal Carolyn Rownd and Foreman High School assistant principal Dr. Staci Stratigakes.

The finalists were asked at a June 9 candidate forum how the school can improve its perception in the community so that more top-achieving students will choose Taft rather than a selective enrollment school.

Grishaber said that one of the best ways to attract top students would be “to get them in door” while they are in grade school by holding a variety of sports tournaments so that they can see the facility and meet the teachers. He said that another effective recruiting tool would be to create more student clubs, adding that the smaller Young has more than 100 clubs compared to the 67 that are listed on Taft’s Web site.

“We have to make it a good school for the kids that are here and an option for the other students,” said Grishaber, who has been an assistant principal at Young, a gifted high school, since 2006. “We can get the job done and have fun.”

Grishaber said that he finds it troublesome that Taft’s average ACT score is about 1 ½ points below the state norm and that the school’s 4-year graduation rate is 75 percent. While too much emphasis can be placed on standardized test scores, the ACT “number gets kids into college,” he said.

Grishaber also cited a recent study that examined the overall performance of the state’s high schools and which found that Taft was in the bottom third in Illinois. “Are you kidding me?” he said.

Grishaber said that his master’s degree in business administration will help get him through the yearly budget process and that as a lifelong Northwest Side resident he has a good feel for the community’s expectations for Taft. “I know the neighborhood,” he said. “I live seven blocks from here.”

Grishaber also said that his familiarity with the neighborhood will help him relate to the students at Taft. At the forum, he listed several current and former businesses in the area which he has shopped or dined at.

Stratigakes said that among her first acts as principal would be to hold a community forum with the school’s stakeholders to discuss the perceptions of Taft and what changes are needed for the school. She said that it is worrisome that 60 percent of Taft’s Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center students leave after eighth grade to attend a gifted high school instead of remaining at Taft.

Stratigakes distributed a proposed strategic plan that she said is intended to make Taft a Tier 1 school, which is the designation that the Chicago Public Schools gives its top schools. The plan calls for the school to increase its attendance rate in 2015 to 95 percent (from 90.6 percent this year) and its average ACT score to 20 (from 18.9) while posting double-digit gains in reading and science test scores.

Stratigakes said that she has the experience of making budget decisions and that her priority will be to keep good teachers in the classroom when budget cuts are required. She said that an administrative position had to be eliminated at Foreman this year in order to save two teaching positions.

Stratigakes said that as Taft’s principal she hopes that teachers would “feel supported and valued” and that despite the challenges facing the school, it has its successes. “There are so many things that work,” Stratigakes said. “There already is a tradition of excellence”
Stratigakes, a Sauganash resident, once worked in an administrative post at an area network for the school system.

Rownd was named Taft’s acting principal in November when Cappitelli went on medical leave.  She is on loan to Taft until June 30, when she is expected to return to her position as assistant principal at Jones Prep High School unless the Taft LSC awards her a 4-year contract.

Rownd said that her nearly 8 months at Taft have exceeded her expectations. “What I do know now is Taft is an amazing school,” she said. “I have great teachers. Lastly I have a great community behind me. Taft is a great place to be.”

Rownd said that one of the challenges facing Taft is that many residents perceive it as the same school it was in the 1980s and 1990s. “Taft is as solid as any place,” she said. “You need to meet the children. I need to take my faculty out to the community and share them with you.”

Rownd said that she has the background to bring academic improvement to Taft. She said that while working as a teacher and admissions director at Northside Prep High School, she helped “build a curriculum at a school that is number one in the state” and that Jones is “now number three in the state.”

Rownd said that she strives to keep the faculty involved in curriculum decisions and that she relies on input from Taft’s instructional leadership team. The Taft LSC recently approved a budget and an improvement work plan that Rownd submitted, and earlier in the school year she implemented several changes, including opening a second student entrance, in an effort to decrease student tardiness.

Each of the finalists said that they have an “open door” policy in which they return phone calls and respond to e-mails and that they would make sure that Taft’s achievements are publicized to the community.

Each candidate also discussed the importance of Taft’s transition to a full-curriculum International Baccalaureate Program school, which requires the implementation independent student projects and critical thinking throughout the curriculum.

Rownd said that the International Baccalaureate Program stresses that students should “find the answer, not be given the answers,” while Grishaber said that the program generates a passion for learning among students. Stratigakes said that teachers must be given the proper training for the program to be effective.

The candidates also met with a group of Taft students and were taken on tours of the school. About 200 people attended the forum, and those in attendance were given a survey in which they were asked to rank the candidates.