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Chris Garard, a 1984 graduate of Gibson City High School, began his new job as principal of Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School on Oct. 1. Garard had been an assistant principal at Rantoul Township High School prior to accepting his new post at his hometown school. Garard, 46, was interviewed last week via email by Paxton Record Editor Will Brumleve. Following is the dialogue:
(1) What have been the highlights of your first couple of weeks at GCMS? What stands out the most?
“On Monday morning (Oct. 1), Mr. (Anthony) Galindo called for an all-school assembly to officially introduce me to the students. I gave a short speech that became much more emotional than I had even expected. I guess coming back home meant more to me than I thought.”
(2) Has there been any kind of learning curve yet, with this being your first time leading a high school?
“At this point, it has been school as usual. I am trying not to be a distraction to the rest of the staff because they are being self-sufficient and very understanding during this transition. As far as a learning curve, I think I have been too busy to notice.”
(3) What attracted you to this position? Why did you want the job?
“The opportunity to return home doesn’t happen very often. With Mr. (Mike) Lindy moving on to another chapter in his life, it created an opening at GCMS High School. The timing of this definitely came at a difficult time for both GCMS and Rantoul Township High School. At this stage of my career, I’m not sure I would have had another opportunity to come back home to share my experiences.”
(4) Why do you believe you are qualified for the job? What experiences and knowledge do you possess that will be beneficial to helping you do your new job?
“This is my 23rd year in education. I have had the opportunity to have leadership positions throughout my entire career. The past eight years I have been an assistant principal at Bloomington High School and Rantoul Township High School where I’ve been able to experience various administrative duties. I believe my varied experiences in four different school districts have provided me with a wealth of knowledge and understanding to draw from.”
(5) What are some of the more immediate challenges facing GCMS High School? One that comes to my mind is the transition into the Common Core learning standards? How familiar are you with Common Core and what are you doing to get your school transitioned smoothly into the new assessment method?
“There are two challenges that come to mind.
“One, of course, is the Common Core Standards that you mentioned. I am very fortunate to have a highly qualified administrative staff in the district that has been working on this transition for almost two years. As far as I can interpret, GCMS is ahead of many districts in our area. I have a pretty solid knowledge of the CCS, so I think I will be able to contribute towards the district initiatives that are in place. Our district curriculum coordinator (Mrs. Sharon Pool) continues to be our leader and is doing an incredible job leading the district in this implementation.
“The second challenge will be creating a new teacher evaluation instrument and providing professional development towards its implementation as required by PERA (Professional Evaluation Reform Act). This is a process our district is just beginning so I am fortunate to be coming in at the initial stages.”
(6) What are your goals at GCMS? What improvements do you hope to make, and how? Any new programs you want to see implemented?
“My goal at this point is to build on and fine tune what is currently in place. I have no intention to come in and make monumental changes.”
(7) Can you talk a little bit about your feelings about what kids need and what supports they need to succeed?
“All students need some support in one form or another. The most difficult job of all educators is determining what supports and to what level. Just being there for them when they need you could make all of the difference in the world. All children need to know you care about them.”
(8) How did you think the interview with the board went and what was your feeling coming out of your two interviews?
“During both interviews, I felt really comfortable. Both the board and the interview committee made me feel at ease so I was able to respond confidently to their questions. I don’t think it was a matter of whether I was qualified or not; it truly came down to what they were looking for in a candidate and trying to find the right fit for their district.”
(9) What was the most important thing for you, as someone who was considering this job, when you went into the interview? What did you want to know from the board?
“The most important thing for me was I wanted to know if they were just looking for a principal of the high school or if they were looking for a contributing member of the community. Coming back to my hometown, it was important for me to be able to be both.”
(10) What was your reaction when you were offered the job?
“I’m not afraid to admit that I was very excited! Brooke Billings (dean at Rantoul Township High School) had an office next to mine and even though I had the door shut for my conversation with Mr. Galindo, I know she heard me say ‘yes.’”
(11) How long do you want to be at this job?
“I plan to be at this position for as long as the board of education and the community will have me. Moving my family to Gibson City was a decision that we (my wife and I) made together, and I have the total support of her and my children. Moving kids during their school career is difficult, and I don’t want to have to make that decision again. Whenever the day comes that I am no longer the principal at GCMS, I hope that I leave the school in a better position than when I arrived.”
(12) Why do you like the educational field? What is it about teaching or being a principal at a high school that drives you?
“Education in general is always changing. I have always believed that if you are not moving forward, you are moving backward. There are always new initiatives and philosophies that drive the educational community, and staying up on them has always been a challenge for all educators. But this is what drives me to be a better administrator because our students need someone motivated to lead their teachers to be the best they can be.
“Our students deserve this and much more.”
(13) Can you talk about your experiences at Rantoul Township High School, particularly your work with RTI, crisis planning, Common Core and any other initiatives you were involved with?
“I was involved in the RtI process when it first began at Rantoul Township High School. I was part of the initial committee that researched and developed the RtI plan and was part of the district committee that hired our RtI coordinator.
“When it came to crisis planning, I was the administrative leader/liaison for the district. I have attended multiple crisis planning conferences and I wrote the district crisis plan. Each year I conducted crisis training sessions with the new teachers in the district as well as provided revisions to the crisis plan if necessary. As part of this plan, I conducted a yearly security audit to determine areas of concern in which possible improvements could be made. One of the major improvements that came from the security audit was the remodel/construction of the main entrance to the high school in order to make it a more secure entrance. The superintendent allowed me to take the lead on this project which included working with the district architect, board of education, and contractors. Another aspect of these improvements included adding new security cameras and network infrastructure while again working with vendors and engineers to design a security system that would meet the needs of Rantoul Township High School.
“My work with the Common Core began two years ago while working with the social science department. We began by looking at the literacy in history/social studies, science and technical subjects standards and began to re-write the district social science standards using the CCS. We started slowly by identifying three to four of the reading standards for literacy in social science and adjusted our curriculum to meet these. During the first year, we concentrated on vocabulary, identifying primary and secondary sources, and identifying an author’s point of view.”
(14) Are you planning on getting involved in some of these similar initiatives at GCMS?
“Absolutely! As the principal, I will be involved in these initiatives and much more.”
(15) In what ways has Gibson City’s high school changed since you went to school there decades ago?
“The major changes are physical in nature. Since I graduated in 1984, Gibson City High School consolidated with Melvin-Sibley High School and changed the school name, mascot and school colors. There have also been physical changes to the building with the addition/connection of the main building to the industrial tech building. I haven’t been lost yet, but I have to admit there are times that I don’t feel like I am in the same building I was in 29 years ago.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is the people. The students, staff and community are generous, respectful and extremely supportive of each other, just like I remember.
“Since returning, I have heard multiple references of Gibson City being referred to as ‘Mayberry,’ but I like to compare it to the musical Brigadoon. Brigadoon (according to Wikipedia) is ‘a miraculously blessed village that rises out of the mists every hundred years for only a day. This was done so that the village would never be changed or destroyed by the outside world.’”