by Lauren Fitzpatrick
Alan Mather, Principal at Lindblom Math & Science Academy and
the Golden Apple Foundation, received the first annual
Stanley C. Golder Award for Principals and Heads of School on
Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the
presentation. Al Podgorski / Sun-Times Media
As his 1,100 students cheered and clapped, Alan Mather, principal of Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School, was surprised on Wednesday with a new award for principals by the Golden Apple Foundation.
The inaugural Stanley C. Golder Award went to Mather, the “prototypical spectacular principal,” said Golden Apple’s CEO Dominic Belmonte, because when his organization, which normally honors teachers brainstormed about what makes principals excellent, they kept returning to a single living example — Mather.
“We were saying things like, the principal has to be an outstanding person who recognizes excellent teaching and helps it to grow, kind of like what Alan Mather does at Lindblom. And the principal also has to be someone who’s really good in the community, like Mather does at Lindblom. And someone who has to be innovative, kind of like Mather,” Belmonte said.
Surrounded by his wife and children, his father and brothers, who were visiting from other states, Mather thanked his school.
“This is kind of a magical moment,” he said.
“You make my job so much easier. The incredible teachers who are here...” the principal said, his voice breaking. “Incredible students who are here every day, you make this a wonderful place to come.”
Some of those students said Mather knows who they are. Greets them outside every morning, standing with a coffee mug, whether in snow boots or under an umbrella.
“You would think a principal [doesn’t] know who you are, but once I was in the hallway and he came up to me and said, ‘Oh, I seen your survey or whatever.’ And he was like, ‘Oh you want to become a teacher?’” said Tia Dunlap, 18, a senior who’s since received a Golden Apple scholarship for becoming a teacher at Illinois State University.
She was shocked he knew her by name.
“He’s really great. And he rides a unicycle,” she said, standing with friends outside the assembly before an AP psychology class.
“On Halloween in a clown costume and he gives out candy,” fellow senior Antwan Smith added.
“He’s a very supportive principal,” 18-year-old Kike Olugboji said. “He got the best teachers out of the world to come to this school. This is so great.”
Ten teachers in the Chicago area also will be given Golden Apples this week. Lindblom teacher Elizabeth Copper won one last year. Mather wins $10,000 for his own professional development as well as a school project of his choosing.
The old struggling Lindblom College Prep high school was replaced about nine years ago by a selective enrollment high school with 110 students under the direction of Mather, who left a plum job as assistant principal at North Side College Prep to head Lindblom. It has blossomed into a premiere South Side selective enrollment high school with a population now of about 1,100 students.
The school boasts the largest Mandarin language curriculum of any Chicago Public School and the largest non-heritage Arabic program in the country. Every Lindblom student takes at least two years of one of those languages; students who enter the seventh grade program have the option to study Arabic or Chinese for six years.
“He did get questioned by people, ‘Why don’t you teach Spanish?’” recalled Mather’s father, Herb Mather, “and he said ‘Why? Every other school in Chicago teaches Spanish, why should we duplicate it?’
“Somehow he has been able to imagine a different scenario and that must be what’s been communicated to both students and faculty here,” the elder Mather said.
Now, there’s also an anime club, ping pong, and an ultimate frisbee team.
“I was out there playing with them Friday in my suit, which was kind of comical while waiting for the girls soccer game to start,” Alan Mather said.
Shuttles that loop north and south, and east and west help students arrive at the school from major CTA stops. And to bridge the students with the surrounding community — a historical sticking point in a neighborhood that considered the elite school an island — Lindblom offers a seminar class taught once a week that allows students to do service projects called colloquium, whose courses often are suggested by community leaders, Mather said. In Kid Math, they tutor nearby Earle Elementary students in math. Students who are in the Safe Humane Chicago colloquium teach at elementary schools about dogfighting and feral animals, Mather said.
The history department offers electives like Afro-American studies, the history of Chicago and a joint art-history class called the “art and history of propaganda,” history teacher John Silva said from inside the school’s greenhouse where stalks of corn were growing along with other edibles and giant tropicals.
“As teachers, we are given a lot of academic freedom that a lot of other teachers do not get, especially at Chicago Public Schools,” Silva said. “What we were celebrating today says a lot about the environment he really created because he was the principal who reorganized Lindblom. It’s a testament not only to what he put together but the strength of the team and students and allowing us reign to do a lot of really cool things.”
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