The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Adventures: In Leadership

By Miriam Rutzen

Mr. Scott Schneider

This week's article provided an opportunity to interview the new West Central High School Principal, Mr. Scott Schneider. Earning his administration degree from Eastern Illinois University in 2011, Mr. Schneider will begin his first year as a principal after 22 years of teaching History in Oakland.

Born in Berwin, he moved to Bolingbrook, at the age of three, where he graduated from Bolingbrook High School in 1981.

Mr. Schneider enjoys a broad range of interests. During his high school years he participated in baseball and football, continuing his love for sports while attending Southern Illinois Univeristy-Carbondale through the intermural program. He continues to stay active with athletics, proving quite proud of his continued involvement as a pitcher in his church softball league in Arcola.

He and his wife, Karla, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this year with a trip to Washington, D.C. Mr. Schnieder met his wife at SIU-C and their daughter, Sarah, starts her junior year there studying journalism this fall.

Q: What does leadership mean to you? A: To me the biggest thing is that in order to get people to follow you and do what you want them to do, they need to be able to trust you and be willing to take risks. You want to make sure that people aren't afraid to do something new. If [something new] doesn't work figure out why, [but you have to] stop trying to do the same things over and over. [It means you] keep trying to reach kids and meet them where they are and try to provide them with the tools to be successful. Trust is the biggest thing, after that is communication. Daily face-to-face contact is important, others need to know what you are thinking and what goals we are working to achieve. Once you get the staff bringing in new ideas, [a new system] begins to build on itself. There are a lot of changes from the state so we have to be willing to change and adapt. I am here to help us do that.

Q: To whom did you look to as a role model or leadership figure while growing up? A: I first think of a few people in my church who were leaders to me. They had a good sense of humor and always had a lot of integrity. I could always count on them to do the right thing. I could always go to them for advice, and I would like to think that is where I am now. If anyone needs advice on life things, I would hope they feel they can come to me. Other leaders I look up to are those who have integrity and pride in their workmanship. My dad was a butcher for 35 years. His integrity and pride in his workmanship always set an example for me. [Those qualities] can translate into many occupation roles: trust, communication, integrity, and workmanship. I have had school principals that gave good advice without shoving it down my throat. They were very inspirational; leaders need to be inspiring. Lincoln, Roosevelt-how they saved the country, and did things differently based on the situation.

Q: Can you tell me about your resume and some interesting facts? A: Hindsboro City Council for four years. Taught 8th-12th grade History. Coached basketball, baseball, football, Scholastic Bowl, Chess Club; Class sponsor and head of History Club. School Improvement Planning Team, Anti-Bullying Committee. Recently, I spearheaded a thematic unit program for 6th-12th grades-had 100 students in the high school, about 180 students total. We broke them up into groups that rotated every hour and thirty minutes, providing them a hands-on learning opportunity. The theme this year was medieval times. We went through all the stations in two days. We played a giant human chess game. We wanted to show how everything collaborates together-search for those connections, and then relate them to real life.

I come from a big family with two sisters and a brother, plus step brothers and step sisters on both sides, so I can relate to a broken family. During high school, I traveled to Europe in 1979 and stayed for a month, visiting Germany, France and Italy. That experience gave me an idea of how different things are there-how much more liberal things are [in Europe]. My family enjoys traveling and we have been to Florida, the East Coast, Blackhills, and California. My favorite place was our trip to Memphis, TN. I really enjoy music, especially Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. My favorite sports team is the Cubs.

Q: What was your inspiration for getting into school administration? What are some of your leadership policies? A: My inspiration for getting my administration degree arose because I got to a point in teaching where I was only reaching a handful of kids. [Getting my administrative degree] was a good way for me to reach a much broader range of kids-if I could help teachers get better at teaching I could reach more kids indirectly. I am an instructional leader-a lead by example kind of guy. I would not ask anyone to do anything I have not done before. Being a good leader in a school is trying to get staff and teachers to do what is best for the students even if it may mean more work for them. The focus on the students is what is the most important, even if we have to adapt and change things. I have succeeded if I have gotten teachers to buy in to the kids.

I have to get to know the students-every student I have ever had, I try to connect with them in some way. All you have to do is listen and build their trust. If I build the relationship with the kid, whether they like the class or not, they are more willing to work for you and put in that extra effort. What they are going to remember from school are the relationships they built and the skills they have learned. I am trying to teach you how to think and how to be open-minded:to listen to both sides of an argument. With the way the state is now with the new regulations, it is not necessarily what you know, but what can you do with the knowledge that you have. How does it translate into real life skills. I try to lead by experience because there is nothing you can tell me that I have not seen: drugs, alcohol, suicide, death in the school, constant discipline problems, no discipline problems, violence, etc. I hope there is some "comfort" for others in knowing that I know what they are going through and that I can relate.

Q: What are three things you would say to someone about life? A: 1) You have to enjoy life; otherwise, what is the point? 2) Every day I give thanks and am appreciative of the things I have. It helps to take a step back and be very appreciative about things you do have and the opportunities available to you. 3) I always try to improve or add some new knowledge to my brain:I am always trying to look something up or find something new. Adding to your knowledge and understanding of life is important: being inquisitive and having a broad set of interests is always helpful.

As Mr. Schneider mentioned, and as every teacher, administrator, and invested community member knows, the government policies regarding education are constantly in flux. His desire to focus on proactively navigating those changes together with his staff will prove an extremely valuable asset as the district moves through these next years. From my conversation with this active, inquisitive, and now official principal, the top three impressions Mr. Schneider left me with are: 1) build relationships based on trust and face-to-face communication-that extra hour to write the handwritten notes is always worth it, 2) be prepared and proactive when dealing with change-stay internally consistent, yet always willing to adapt and improve externally, and 3) take the time to see the connections across disciplines within the classrooms and then into real life, for that is when the real and valuable learning actually takes place. Mr. Schneider, I wish you all the best in the year ahead!