Patch sat down this week to get to know Dr. Phil Collins, who started at Morton Grove Elementary School District 70 in July. He succeeded Dr. Gary Zabilka at the district, which contains one K-8 building,
Patch: What have you done in your career up until now?
Collins: For the last 10 years I’ve been assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Glenview District 34. It’s a much bigger district, with 4,600 students, and eight schools.
Before that I was a K-5 principal in Arlington Heights District 25, for seven years, as principal. I’ve also been at the middle school level in Mundelein as assistant principal and technology director for District 75.
I spent a couple years in Rockford where I opened a science and technology magnet school. Before that, I was at IMSA (the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora and I was a resident counselor, taught part time and coached math.
I started my career at Loyola Academy as a high school math teacher.
So I’ve worked from elementary to middle to high school over the course of the years.
I really enjoy the K-8 level. One of the things that drew me to Morton Grove is the K-8. To have all that continuum in one place and see kids grow over a nine-year span, that to me is exciting.
What else attracted you to District 70?
As I was looking at the potential of moving in to a superintendency, I looked at the fact Dr. Zabilka (the previous superintendent) had been here nine years. That showed me stability. The overall performance of the district in terms of student achievement has been strong, the district is in good shape financially, so there has been good financial stewardship by the administration and board. There were a significant number of positives.
I’ve felt a strong community feeling here within the building and organization, a ‘we really care deeply about what’s happening here’ feeling, and people are committed to working together. It feels very much like a family here, among staff, parents and teachers. As I picked that up through interview process, I felt more and more involved.
When did you start?
I officially started July 2.
I was actually hired at end of November. So I had a number of opportunities to meet with Dr. Zabilka to get up to speed with what was happening in the district, and to meet with administrators and staff before I started, to make some connections.
Where do you live?
Suppose a sixth-grader asked you what you do in your job as a superintendent. How would you explain it?
I have overall responsibility to make sure the entire district continues to run well and work well for students. That encompasses a number of different things. There are components of finances we need to monitor. We need to make sure the facility continues to run and work well, and that instructional programs are working well. We have to maintain good relationships with the board of education and help them with their roles, and maintain strong community relationships with organizations that serve the same community, such as the high school, the village, police and library.
Those are the big picture components that we need to keep an eye on. The bottom line is our focus needs to be on what’s best for students. That really should drive everything we’re doing.
After you started here, did anything surprise you?
Part of what I’ve been doing is getting to know the people in the organization and community and get up to speed.
In my second week, a transformer had blown in one part of the building. That was an interesting way to start week 2. We had ComEd out and they fixed it. You never know what you’re going to walk into on a given day.
A lot of it is beginning to look at the strategic plan the board passed last year. We’re beginning to strategize with the administrative team. That’s going to be our guide as we move forward.
Tell me about a memory from when you were in elementary school.
I remember walking into 7th grade science. My teacher was Mr. Roloff, and he told us on day 1 that we weren’t going to have any textbooks. I was a little taken aback. His approach was very much based on scientific process and getting us into doing experiments, exploring scientific ideas and concepts. It’s what we now call inquiry based. So we were designing and developing various activities. I remember designing model rockets to try to reach a certain trajectory and reach a certain height or distance. That culminated with going out into a field and shooting the rockets. I was so excited and involved. He made science real for us. It was no longer just in the textbook. That was inspirational for me.
Where did you go to elementary school?
I went to Mount Greenwood Elementary School on the far South side of Chicago. I was born and raised on the South side.
Do people mix you up often with the rock singer?
It’s not uncommon when I tell people my name, they do get a chuckle. But now that I’ve finished my doctorate (in May 2011 from Northern Illinois University), they don’t know whether to go with the Phil Collins or Dr. Phil reference.
And you have kids?
Yes—a senior in college, she’s 21; a senior in high school; she’s 18, and our little guy is 3.
Any parting thoughts?
I’m excited to be here, and to become part of the family here at Park View and District 70 and to continue to provide great things for students, and provide opportunities for students to learn.