By Tina Jenkins Bell
BAPA School Liaison
Daniel Kuzma, Morgan Park High School’s new principal, believes schools are more than just a place to drop off kids and hope that they learn. No. For him, our schools are major pillars in community, the place where education happens and where students, staff, faculty, and parents are constructively engaged.
In year six through ten of his career, Kuzma said, “I started taking more teacher leadership roles and realizing that some of the work that connects with other adults in the building can positively impact students, even if they are not in your classroom — whether that works around student curriculum, family supports, or outreach. If the adults can be on the same page around those pieces, it could benefit the entire school.”
That realization motivated Kuzma to get into school leadership and later to apply for the principal position at MPHS.
Kuzma also spent the last six of his 14-year career in various leadership roles, including dean, instructional coach, resident principal and assistant principal at Taft High School.
Kuzma said he wanted to be principal at Morgan Park because of the great love everyone, including students, teachers, staff, alumni, and the Beverly/Morgan Park community have for the school.
Kuzma added Taft and Morgan Park High Schools have a lot in common. Both schools have International Baccalaureate programs, academic centers and large student bodies and alumni organizations. Additionally, both schools have been around for decades with Taft celebrating 83 years and Morgan Park 106 years of educating youth.
While at Taft, Kuzma saw a way to bring all of the stakeholders together to improve and lift students’ education.
“On a very basic level, the more aligned a school gets and the more organized the school gets, the students win. Whether or not it connects with curriculum or that organization connects with students supports, you can see how it changes the way students perceive themselves as learners and the way they experience school.
While at Taft, Kuzma figured out ways to open doors for all students. As a result, Taft’s enrollments in advanced placement, dual credit, and other competitive academic programs increased.
Kuzma said, he didn’t want a student to be punished for having a bad school year when he was 14, causing him to be barred from academic opportunities at age 16. He found a way to stop looking at ways to keep kids out of programs because maybe of the criteria they missed sending in a Google form or lacked a recommendation and began examining “an asset-driven picture of students’ capabilities.
“We started to [ask] if a student missed one of the criteria would that make him ineligible for the program. Like if a student had a 2.7 GPA but has a 1200 SAT, maybe that student is highly capable of doing the work in an advanced class. Maybe the low GPA is due to some mistakes the student made at 14 o 15 years old that should not in any way impact him or her at 16,” he said.
Kuzma said that by changing the way they evaluated criteria educators at Taft ceased being gatekeepers that prohibit progress.
“More often than not, we have discovered that the students are capable,” Kuzma said.
Also while assistant principal at Taft, Kuzma discovered the necessity and value of ongoing counseling for academic counseling, social emotional support, and preparation for college and careers.
“Taft students saw counselors eight times a year. By doing that, we saw students being supported more, and counselors feeling more confident in their work,” he said.
Kuzma believes these and many other experiences will fuel his leadership, but he does not believe he can or should do it all.
“I am a big believer in distributive leadership and shared stewardship. One person cannot lead a 1250-person organization. [I believe in] that asset-driven mindset of what are the strengths and talents of the people on the team. I believe in not just shared buy-in but shared decision making, and shared stewardship of the overall school,” Kuzma said.
“I am also a firm believer that how you interact with people matters,” Kuzma said, adding that he will always make time to be accessible.
As for his priorities at Morgan Park High School, Kuzma said during his first year he will:
Take a healthy look at the culture and climate in the building. “We want to make sure that we are aligning our systems and structures so that everyone who passes through MPHS has a positive experience,” he said.
Help families and students understand the importance of an International Baccalaureate education and what it entails.
Ensure all students have an excellent post-secondary experience. “For me, school does not have to end at 2:45 p.m. I want ever student to be connected to an extracurricular activity, whether arts based, performative, or athletic. We want students and families rooted in the MPHS community (which is accessible from the start of school to 8p),” Kuzma said.
Promote the great things that happens at Morgan Park High School. We want to relentlessly celebrate students, faculty, staff, and families here,” Kuzma added.
Kuzma also hopes to leverage community resources to help students and their families.
“In the Beverly/Morgan Park area, there are so many dynamic residents with varied skills and backgrounds to bring to the table . . . I want to make sure that we use the school as a vehicle to link students and their families with as much as we can offer from a community standpoint,” Kuzma said.
Speaking of the neighborhood, Kuzma lives in Beverly/Morgan Park with his wife and 10-month-old son.
Kuzma took his three-word description for effective leadership from the ten traits of an IB learner: open minded, caring, and risk taker. Of the three, Kuzma wants to be known as a leader who cares.