It’s hard not to dive in with my list of questions for Barry Rodgers, Lake Forest High’s relatively new principal. Having come to the community at a critical time, where the school was better known for its tragedies than its triumphs, there is no wavering in Barry’s enthusiasm as he forges into his second year leading the local high school faculty. After settling on a fish sandwich (for him) and a roasted beet salad (for me) at Lake Forest’s Market House, Barry’s vision for the upcoming academic year began to unfold.
“With all of the barbecues I’ve been going to this summer—enough with the red meat,” says Barry with a laugh over his healthier choice of lunch.
Barry’s approachability and proven track record for creating a winning educational recipe of engaged teachers, happy students, and supportive parents made him the first choice of the school board’s hiring committee when they recruited him from Northside Prep high school in Chicago last spring.
Leaving in the wake of great success—some considering Northside Prep to be one of the top high schools in Illinois, Barry—a married father of two young boys—welcomed the challenges ahead of him at Lake Forest. “We have a true community high school here. The sky is the limit. We have all of the key ingredients to make great things happen.”
One of Barry’s driving motivators is meeting students and teachers where they are. “Schools and organizations need to evolve in order to grow and improve.” To this end, there are a number of new initiatives underway to appeal to students across the board—not just the athletes. Not just the most academic. Everyone.
“This year, all incoming freshmen will receive the newest version of the Chromebook. The technology itself is exciting, but the impact it’s having already—even more so,” he explains. “Before, teachers were the drivers of what was taught. But today, they are facilitators of learning. Education has become more real time. I’m excited to see how the teachers have embraced this. Our goal is to teach students to be digital citizens—we have the responsibility to do this.”
Another innovation in the academic lineup this year is a business incubator class, an entrepreneurial offering for juniors with a “Shark Tank” twist. “Education is all about its application, right? What better way to see your learning in action than to come up with an idea and see if you can take it to market?” At the end of the year, students will have a chance to present their projects, many mentored by local leaders, and have a chance to win funding for their idea. “Then as seniors, in an independent study, they get to launch their company. How incredible will that experience look on a college application…or in life,” Barry adds. “This is the ultimate in harnessing the creativity of our kids, teachers, and community members.”
Barry’s energy for leading Lake Forest High School to achieve its potential seems limitless. “I have an incredible team around me,” he says. “From Mike [Simek, the school’s superintendent] with his vision for growth and interest in new ideas, to some incredible new assistant principals and department chairs—we’ve got a great team we’re assembling. And an incredibly hard working faculty. We’re in good shape, in really good shape. I start to think two to three years out and what could be and I can’t help but be excited. We will achieve our potential when all of our important stakeholders are working together.”
One topic that may or may not be revisited this school year is the proposed block scheduling, a suggested approach that would more closely mirror the class scheduling of colleges and universities—where classes meet for longer periods of time, less frequently during the week. Block scheduling also allows students to have study halls, something many welcome with the athletic waiver going away. (In the past, student athletes didn’t have to take gym class if they were playing a sport. The state of Illinois mandated this be removed. “While current Lake Forest High School juniors and seniors have had their waiver grandfathered, incoming freshmen and sophomores will be taking some form of gym class. “Some people may look at that initiative not passing as a failure. I see it more as a conversation starter and groundwork for future change.”
Once a classroom science teacher, Barry still finds the greatest joy in seeing his students mature. “It’s incredible when these kids can look you in the eye with confidence, knowing that they can back it up—that’s what it’s all about.”
– Ann Marie Scheidler // Illustration by Kirsten Ulve