About two months into his new job as the principal/assistant director at Career Center of Southern Illinois in Red Bud, former Waterloo Athletic Director Mitch North is enjoying the role.
“My favorite thing about the job so far has been getting back to a more academic role,” he said. “I love extracurricular activities and I have a lot of great memories from my time at (Waterloo), but I feel like I’m back focusing on what I always wanted to be doing and that is helping young people find ways to succeed as students and in their next steps into adulthood. We have a great group of people who are working here and with such a small staff, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them and see all the ways they impact students on a daily basis.”
North worked for about four years in the Waterloo School District before taking the job at CCSI earlier this year.
He started working a few days a week in July before coming in every day beginning in August.
At CCSI, North’s main responsibilities are teacher evaluation and coaching, along with student assistance and discipline. North said that is fairly standard for comparable jobs at other schools.
“Things get a little different in that we’re routinely getting a new student or two a week, so I’m talking with sending schools and meeting with these new students and their family members to talk about the program and get a feel for if they we can be a good fit and how we can best support them,” North noted.
North’s day normally starts with checking all of the students in CCSI’s alternative and vocational programs.
There are currently only about 90 children on campus each day because the school is operating using a hybrid model, with students only attending in-person two days a week.
Students must also complete a symptom check, verify they have not been exposed to anyone with the novel coronavirus, get their temperature checked before going to class, wear face coverings and social distance as much as possible.
North said the pandemic precautions have made getting to know his new pupils more difficult, though he noted they have worked because the school has had no COVID-19 cases.
“It is hard to make connections with a lot of our students when they’re only on campus two days a week and wearing a mask,” he explained. “Checking them in each morning has been really helpful with learning names and personalities and it is a great opportunity to greet students and ask them how they’re doing as soon as they get off the bus.”
After he completes the check-in process, other factors normally determine what the rest of North’s day looks like.
Lately, he has often focused on helping with technical issues regarding remote learning.
“Many students struggle with remote learning, so this has been stressful on staff and students,” North said. “We ultimately want to make sure that they learn the material and pass their classes, but we’re not in ideal conditions.”
In addition to North, there have been numerous other staffing changes at CCSI this year.
The previous director retired, so North’s predecessor Stephanie Mohr moved into that role. A cafeteria manager, in-school suspension supervisor, law enforcement instructor, childcare instructor, Certified Nursing Assistant instructor school counselor and automobile collision instructor at the school all also left for various reasons.
“We’re trying to use these new people in new positions to improve and grow our programs,” North said. “We’ve brought in some new people and promoted a few from within and have assembled a really strong and driven team of people who want what is best for students.”
North also stressed that he has already learned that any preconceptions about the students who attend CCSI are misconceptions.
“The ‘bad kid’ stigma is definitely out there and just completely off base,” he said. “What we really are is a place for people to go and try something different and find a new path to success. Many of our students simply have had attendance problems or struggle with anxiety or a specific conflict that they couldn’t overcome at their sending school. In the end, kids are kids and many of the struggles that they have faced in life are beyond their personal control or are a result of momentary lapses in good decision-making.
“The students that are out here, nearly without exception, want to be in school,” North continued. “They want to graduate. They want to take those next steps into adulthood with a high school diploma in their possession and we are trying to do what we can to help them make that happen.”