Westmont leader’s efforts leads to academic improvements, principal of year honors

By Cathy Janek for Chronicle Media

Top principals from around the country — including Westmont High School’s Jack Baldermann (fourth from the left) — gathered recently in Washington D.C. All are in contention for 2018 National Principal of the Year

As one of three finalists for the 2018 National Principal of the Year, Westmont High School Principal Jack Baldermann  just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., where he participated in a series of interviews and also had the opportunity to get to know principals of other schools around the country.

“I meet with other principals frequently,” Baldermann said. “But this was different, because each of these people was selected as principal of the year in their state.  They all have interesting stories and great ideas.”

Named Illinois’ Principal of the Year for 2017, Baldermann is up for the national principal of the year recognition by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. If chosen, he’d be the first selected from Illinois in the 25-year history of the award.

Baldermann was named Illinois High School Principal of the Year by the Illinois Principals Association (IPA), which recognizes top school officials who have demonstrated a positive impact on their students and learning community.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals’ National Principal of the Year program recognizes outstanding middle level and high school leaders who have succeeded in providing high-quality learning opportunities for students, as well as demonstrating exemplary contributions to the profession.

Baldermann, who began his career teaching English and history before becoming a principal, said he most enjoys working with teachers who really care about students and having “very hard working students”—something he has found at west suburban Westmont High School.

A principal at Westmont for the last six years, Baldermann was instrumental in expanding the rigor of the academics at a school of about 500 students where around 40 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.

“Our Advanced Placement program was named the most improved in the State of Illinois,” he said.

At one time, Westmont High School offered only five Advanced Place courses; today it offers 20.

We went from having three or four AP Scholars each year to having 55 in the last academic year, Baldermann added.

Kevin Weck, Westmont High School assistant principal, said over the last five years the number of students enrolled in AP classes has grown from about 40 to 250 each year.

Kids that would not have traditionally been enrolled in those classes are now signing up finding success.

“Our teachers will meet with students before and after school, give up their lunch periods, and also have Saturday or evening study sessions before an AP exam,” Weck said.  “And the kids show up.”

In terms of underrepresented students which include African American, Hispanic, and those with special needs only “seven or eight years ago, one or two of underrepresented students would have passed an AP exam,” he said. “In the past two years, we have had 68 underrepresented students pass AP exams.”

“We are really targeting students who traditionally are not put in these types of classes and given these types of opportunity. We are helping break down these barriers that exist and helping them be successful.”.

Weck said he has learned a lot from Baldermann in terms of disciplining students.

Amending how the administration tackles student discipline, Weck said “we have learned that out-of-school suspensions are not the answer.”

At one time, Westmont High School’s out-of-school suspension had been over 100 students a year.  Today, it is less than 10.

“The kids are now in school more, which translates into a higher graduation rate,” Weck said.

“It is a culture where learning is taken seriously, but kids are coming in a caring, kind, and compassionate environment,” he added.

For the last three years, Westmont has had a 99% graduation rate.

“We are doing everything we can so no one slips through the cracks,” Weck said.



Westmont leader’s efforts leads to academic improvements, principal of year honors–