Tresa Dunbar and Kerry Purcell are two public school principals trying to make a difference.
Tresa Dunbar served as an assistant principal at Henry H. Nash Elementary School, then completed special principal training and served as a principal at another school before returning to serve as principal at Nash. She has also served as a school consultant for the department of human resources for the Chicago public schools and as a teacher and social studies department chair at an alternative school, and she was employed by the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana as a teaching assistant and research assistant in the department of curriculum and instruction. She was also an evaluation specialist in the Center for Institutional Research and Evaluation at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where she earned her Ph.D. in curriculum development with endorsements in language arts, reading and social studies. Dunbar also has extensive experience in designing and facilitating professional development experiences for teachers.
At the time Dunbar arrived to assume the principal position at Nash, a sense of hopelessness had pervaded the school. To foster improvement, Dunbar completely changed the physical environment and created a more child-friendly culture. By acting with integrity and consistency and including her staff in decision making, she won over initially skeptical teachers, as well as the local school council, comprised of parents, teachers and community leaders.
Dunbar visits every classroom on her daily rounds, acknowledging and appreciating teachers and children. She also visits homes on a regular basis, walks the neighborhood, walks students home and opens the school on weekends so that students and families can meet with her. She believes strongly that the school’s progress has been the result of a shared effort, driven by parents and students who wanted more for their community.
Kerry Purcell began her education career in 1986 as a kindergarten teacher in an urban school that served approximately 400 students, 70 percent of whom came from homes of low socioeconomic level. During her 12 years as a kindergarten teacher, Purcell served in various leadership capacities at the school, district and state level, presenting at conferences and advocating for developmentally appropriate teaching practices for early learners, research based instructional practices in literacy and mathematics and inclusion of students with special needs in regular education classrooms. She was also instrumental in starting the first unpaid after-school program at her school.
While teaching, Purcell earned a master’s degree in educational administration. She began her administrative career in 1998 as an assistant principal at Harvard Park Elementary School, then served as a principal at McClernand Elementary School. In 2001, she returned to Harvard Park, where she served as principal for six years.
During her tenure as principal, Purcell was instrumental in supporting Harvard Park’s successful move off the state watch list, which entailed increasing test scores by approximately 45 percent in reading and 50 percent in math. She used techniques such as data interpretation and analysis, building and sustaining professional learning communities and creative use of fiscal, human and time resources to support school improvement. In addition, Purcell was instrumental in building leadership capacity in staff throughout the district while serving as a district mentor and delivering staff development to instructional leadership teams across the district.
Purcell currently serves as a senior consultant for Focus on Results. In this capacity, she works with district level administration, building principals and teacher leaders in districts across the country. As a consultant, Purcell provides professional development and coaching support to assist districts in understanding how to become data driven decision makers and to use data to make sound instructional, fiscal and human resources decisions that positively affect the lives of children and families.