Principal with a Purple Heart


Principal with a Purple Heart

First things first: What's the story behind you receiving the Bronze Star?

In 2007, I was principal at Herscher High School when I was called to Baghdad for a year as part of President Bush's surge. I was a lieutenant, and we were sending a lot more men to Iraq to turn the tide.

I was a cell leader. It was our job to locate vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or car bombs, along the road. We showed the Iraqis how to conduct intelligence operations.

We were in imminent danger on a daily basis. It was a rough year.


And the Purple Heart?

After Iraq, I went back to work as a principal in Illinois. In 2015, I was principal at Waukegan High School when I was called to Afghanistan.

It was at Camp Integrity in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, where, ironically, I was hit by a car bomb. It was August 7, 2015. At 10:07 p.m., I was near the front gate when a car bomb hit our front gate. We lost a bunch of our Afghan guards. The bomb threw me into a concrete wall headfirst.

I did not have a helmet on, and I passed out. There were suicide bombers coming out, and we defended the base for the rest of the night. When something sudden like that happens, that's where your training kicks in. We continued to secure the base for the rest of the night. I was flown to a military hospital the next day to be treated for a concussion and other injuries.

A couple of my military buddies called my wife and told her I was OK. My daughter's fifth-grade class sponsored me and sent me care packages. Being a Purple Heart recipient was something I never wanted. When you are in combat, you just do what you think is right.


How did you end up in the Navy?

I wasn't ready for college, but I enrolled at Valparaiso University anyway for one year before dropping out. One day, I went to the movie theater, saw the film "Top Gun" and decided to join the Navy.

My first assignment was on the U.S.S. Midway, an aircraft carrier. I was a weapons specialist for a helicopter squadron out of Japan. That aircraft carrier is now a museum in San Diego.


What has the Navy taught you about discipline that can be applied in schools?

A lot of times, kids have a hard time being told what to do without questioning it. Kids need to learn attention to detail and doing things the right way. I'd like to think being a high school principal made me a better officer.


Looking back, who was the teacher who you inspired you the most?

My sixth-grade teacher at Liberty Elementary School in Orland Park, Jean Rachford. She got me to be a better student. She didn't take anything less than the best. She was an inspiration for me as I pursued a career in education.

I want teachers who go above and beyond, just like her. The first quality you look for in a teacher is love of students. Curriculum is important, but we want teachers who love students and want to make a difference.


What was your favorite subject in high school?

Social studies, which is what I ended up teaching. I traveled quite a bit, and I really liked the geography aspect of it.


Were you involved in any activities during high school in Orland Park?

I loved playing soccer. I was a forward on the Carl Sandburg team. I also swam the 500 meters for the swimming team. I think sports can be an important part of a young person's high school experience. A student should try as many different things that they can until they find their niche.

Later on, when I went to college, I played rugby, and I continued to play rugby in the Navy. I call rugby elegant violence. It is a rough sport, but I had very solid teammates.


A big topic in high schools these days is bullying. How do you stop it?

When I interviewed for the assistant principal position at Morris High School, it happened to be the day of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. The administration asked me how to proceed from what happened that day.

During my career, many kids have come to my office with something a student posted on Facebook, and it is not right. I believe you have to make the kids and the adults understand that bullying is unacceptable. Once you put the expectations out there that it is the responsibility of everybody who sees bullying to report it, it becomes a culture.

Bullying is not acceptable, whether it happens on social media or whether it happens with physical actions. I believe you can eliminate it, for the most part, from the school.


What are your goals for Centennial?

I want to make it the best high school in the state. There are so many things you can do if the high school staff and administration are motivated and excited.


What's your advice for young people interested in careers in the military?

Explore all the services. Talk to all the branches first before you make a decision.


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Toxaz wrote on July 05, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Quick, grab me an stripped unassigned M4, some eye pro that we would never let enlisted wear, and one of those sweet IBA crotch guards