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New Waldo principal a veteran of curriculum, behavior program

Sandy Katulnew Waldo Middle principal

Sandy Katula, new Waldo Middle principal

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Updated: June 29, 2013 6:23AM

AURORA — Sandy Katula, the newly-approved principal of East Aurora’s Waldo Middle School, is a firm believer that trust is something you earn.

That’s why a top priority for the veteran teacher and administrator is getting to know her new staff and students, at a middle school that is about twice the size of the one she is leaving.

“I think the key for me is going to be building relationships,” Katula said. “I’m a facilitator. I value everyone’s input and take the time to be a good listener.”

Katula, who said she has experience working with a variety of student demographics throughout the Chicago suburbs, came to East Aurora because she wanted to work in a larger district with more than one middle school where staff members regularly communicate and share strategies.

She holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of St. Francis in Joliet and a second master’s degree in education from Governors State University.

Katula began her career about 23 years ago as a science, social studies and reading teacher in the Lockport School District, about 23 miles southeast of Aurora. After four years there, she went to Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School in Oak Lawn, where she taught science, language arts, health and career education for seven years.

Katula then taught literature and science for seven years in Tinley Park’s District 146 before moving into administration at Steger School District 194’s Columbia Central, a middle school. There, Katula has done both public relations and served as the assistant principal, her main responsibility being curriculum and instruction.

She said she prides herself on being an advocate for her staff and students and being a team player.

“I don’t look to make quick or rash decisions,” she said.

Columbia Central, though smaller than Waldo with 571 students, is a diverse school, where more than half the student body is low-income and students score below the state average on the ISAT.

According to the state’s 2012 report card, Columbia Central had a 46 percent white, 24 percent black and 19 percent Hispanic student body, 4 percent of whom were English-language learners. About 75 percent of students met or exceeded ISAT standards last year, compared to 82 percent statewide.

Comparatively, Waldo Middle had 1,035 students enrolled last year, 83 percent of whom were Hispanic, 9 percent were black and 6 percent were white. About 87 percent of Waldo students were low-income and 23 percent were English-language learners. About 62 percent of students met or exceeded ISAT standards.

Katula said one of her top priorities at Waldo will be narrowing down which goals are most important “so we can really dedicate time to those that are most meaningful,” she said, such as improving the school’s literacy rates. Last school year, just 56 percent of Waldo students met or exceeded state reading standards, compared to 82 percent statewide.

Part of that strategy will involve giving English-language learners the resources they need, Katula said, especially at the critical point when they’ve scored high enough on English-language proficiency exams to stop receiving bilingual services, but still may be struggling with certain literacy skills.

It’s an issue Katula observed during her time at Steger. These students need help developing study skills, she said, perhaps through smaller classes and creative scheduling.

Part of why school board members said they hired Katula was her past experience implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), an approach to student behavior management that many Chicago-area districts are using. It focuses on strategies that prevent bad behavior, ongoing teacher training and data-driven decision-making.

Katula also plans to tackle bullying, an issue that Waldo is dealing with after a former student lodged a complaint that administrators at the school didn’t do enough to intervene in a bullying issue. That complaint is now being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Katula said while bullying “is an issue in every middle school” and is “often confused with typical teen teasing” it’s a problem that “can’t be taken lightly.”

“I’m a big advocate of getting students to the point where they can address it on their own,” she said, adding that she teaches her students to be assertive in dealing with bullies, but will step in if students can’t work it out themselves.

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