I like to call Room 229 my old home,” says William Walsh.
We’re sitting in his office at Hinsdale Central High School that has been his home base at the school for the past six years as the assistant principal of operations. But it won’t be his office for much longer. As of July 1, Walsh will take over as principal of the school—a familiar face who’s ready to begin a new phase at the school after 17 years at Hinsdale Central and 22 years in education.
Room 229 is where he began his tenure at Hinsdale Central when he first arrived here after five years at Waubonsie Valley. He was hired to teach accounting, business law, consumer economics and computer classes, and room 229 was his domain for eight years. “I did an observation in there yesterday, and it hasn’t changed much,” he jokes. He then spent three years in the dean’s office managing student discipline issues before landing in his current position as assistant principal of operations, where he manages school facilities, technology and more.
But being inside the classroom is what taught Walsh he wanted to devote his career to education, which he never really intended. He started college at Illinois State University as an accounting major; he was the oldest of six children and always “played a leadership role in the family dynamic,” he says. During college, he had the opportunity to live in Seoul, South Korea, to teach English as a second language.
That’s when everything changed.
“I found a different passion that sparked an energy in me that I didn’t necessarily know was there,” Walsh says. He returned to school and changed his major from business and accounting to business education. “My friends still give me a hard time and can’t believe I’ve been teaching for 22 years. This is Bill Walsh—the authoritarian, the disciplinarian—and he’s actually engaging 30 students at a time. But I don’t think there’s a better job in the world than being in front of a classroom of students and getting to see them learn, engage, and grow.”
Being back in front of the students is one of the things he’s most excited about. Working in operations means a lot of time spent behind the scenes and not really in the forefront of the student body.
“Now I get to be with students a little bit more, so that’s one of the things I look forward to.”
His day-to-day job will change in many other ways, too. “The principal job is like the president of a company,” he says. “It’s that sort of concept. It’s more of a people job than a to-do job,” he adds.
It’s meetings with parents, PTO members, boosters, and anyone else with a vested interest in the school, and it’s about working with staffers to make sure they’re meeting their potential and have the resources they need. “It’s about people and working through solutions and problems to find common ground to serve the best interests of everybody,” he says.
In terms of his top priorities as principal, Walsh quickly identifies three key areas of focus: facility updates, staff evaluation methods, and community engagement. “Hinsdale Central is maxed out,” he says. The school will be seven classrooms short next year for the number of students that will be enrolled. He’ll be working with the board of education to come up with ideas on how to improve and expand facilities and classrooms, and not just in terms of space but also when it comes to what’s needed for 21st-century learning.
Walsh is also very interested in the idea of what makes a good teacher and how to best evaluate performance. And finally, he wants to focus on engaging community members who view Hinsdale Central as an important part of this village and the surrounding ones. He will suddenly be much more visible to the parents of 2,900 students enrolled there, and he wants them to now he’s accessible and working for them.
Walsh is also a husband and father to three boys, ages 14, 12, and 10, so soon he will be one of those parents of a high schooler like the ones he’ll be communicating with every day, which gives him a valuable perspective. Though he knows being principal means late nights at football games, awards ceremonies, school musicals, and more, you can tell how committed a father he is.
“I work to live. I don’t live to work,” he says. He’s a big baseball and Cubs fan (as evidenced by the photos and memorabilia on his office walls), and he and his sons are embarking on a fun mission to visit all the MLB ballparks in the country. A map on his wall has stickers to all the places they’ve been so far; this year they will check off parks No. 15 and 16.
All those wall hangings and 22 years of memories in education will soon make their way to a new home when Walsh is sent to the principal’s office.