Meet Our New Principal: An Interview with Mr. Frank Kuzniewski

Principal Frank Kuzniewski speaks with a community member during a "meet and greet" held in the John Mills cafeteria in May.

Principal Frank Kuzniewski speaks with a community member during a "meet and greet" at John Mills in May. Mr. Kuzniewski and Assistant Principal Alexandra Oreluk officially became the school's new leaders in July. (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca)

If it weren't for the encouragement he received from a former superintendent of his, Mr. Frank Kuzniewski might never have left teaching to become an administrator. 

"Teaching is the most rewarding position in education," says Mr. Kuzniewski, who began his career as a high school English teacher in south suburban Cook County.

But luckily for the John Mills Elementary School community, the South Holland, Ill., native heeded his superintendent's advice and moved into administration. 

With the start of the 2019-20 school year, Mr. Kuzniewski succeeds Ms. Laura Magruder as principal of John Mills.

He joins incoming Assistant Principal Ms. Alexandra Oreluk to form the school's new leadership team. (For an interview with Ms. Oreluk, who replaces the school's interim assistant principal from last year, Dr. Reinhard Nickisch, please click here.)

Mr. Kuzniewski arrives at District 401 with 22 years of experience as an educator.

The 1994 Eastern Illinois University graduate, who has a bachelor's degree in English with teacher certification, taught at the high school level for 11 years. 

During that time, he earned a master's degree in instructional leadership in 1998 from Saint Xavier University. In 2001 he received his administrative certification, also from Saint Xavier.

The Thornwood High School alumnus became a full-time administrator in 2005 as an assistant principal. Since 2009, he has served as a principal at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels, except for a period from 2015 to 2017 when he participated in Southwest Airlines' Emerging Leader Development Program

To learn more about Mr. Kuzniewski, District 401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca interviewed him via email. An edited version of their exchange appears below.

Q: Welcome to District 401! You come to John Mills with more than two decades of experience as an educator. What we your previous education jobs?

A: I have been a classroom teacher and will always consider myself as one. Teaching is the most rewarding position in education. While in the role as a teacher, I served on various committees to enhance the educational experiences for students and to provide support to my colleagues. My administrative experiences are varied.

Q: What attracted you to education as a career?

A: My Uncle Andy has always been a role model to me, and he is a retired teacher and Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach. [Andy Scianna taught and coached at Oak Forest High School.] He always spoke so highly of his students, and I saw how much he enjoyed his job and the way he was respected by the community he served.

This left an impression on me at a young age, and so I wanted to be like him when I grew up. I have a passion for helping others learn new things, and when many of my high school teachers pushed me to be a teacher, I felt they saw something in me that I had to pursue.   

Q: What led you to move into administration?

A: I never really saw myself as an administrator until a former superintendent approached me about making the transition, and that is when I took on the role of a division coordinator. I felt that I could make a difference to a wider range of people, both adults and kids, by stepping out of the classroom and becoming a leader.

Q: What attracted you to the John Mills principal job?

A: The diversity of Elmwood Park and returning to the elementary school setting were the key motivators in pursuing this position. During the interview process, I spent a lot of time reading as much as I could find about the District; the more I read about the District's advancements and vision, the more I wanted to join this team.

Q: What has been your impression of John Mills so far?

A: Professional, welcoming and supportive. These adjectives immediately come to mind both for John Mills and the community of Elmwood Park. I am overwhelmed by the kindness and support I have received.

Q: For those of us who might have only a vague idea of what a principal does, could you tell us what your main day-to-day responsibilities are?

A: At a very high level, my day-to-day responsibilities are centered around academic rigor for all students in a safe environment.

As a leader, I support the faculty, staff and students through visibility and accessibility whereby a positive school climate is maintained. There are always the tasks of discipline, evaluations, curriculum revisions and implementations, scheduling, etc.; however, my primary role is to be the educational leader of the school.

Q: What are your goals for the year?

A: To build positive, trusting relationships with the school community and to increase student achievement on local and state assessments.

Q: Is there anything miscellaneous you'd like to share about yourself — family, interests outside of your job, favorite books, movies, sports teams, etc.?

A: My favorite book is "To Kill a Mockingbird." My favorite sports team is the Chicago White Sox (this confession may get me some enemies). My favorite movies are "Field of Dreams" and "It's a Wonderful Life."

I am married and have a 17-month-old daughter. I have been playing softball with the same group of guys for the past eight years, and we play every Sunday. One of the greatest joys of playing softball is the ability to travel for tournaments and meet new people — I am amazed at the number of fellow educators I have met over the years.

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