WOODSTOCK – Art Vallicelli never meant to get the office. His plan was to stay in the classroom.
Vallicelli – who earned his doctorate from Northern Illinois University earlier this year – is two and a half weeks into his first year as assistant principal of Woodstock High School, a job he’d never envisioned having. The former English teacher thought he’d be content teaching in a high school, a dream he had even before he attended one.
Vallicelli recently caught up with Northwest Herald reporter Shawn Shinneman to talk about his change of heart, the prevalence of standardized testing and the changing learning standards, which Vallicelli sees as a paradigm shift.
Shinneman: So how’s it going so far in the new role?
Vallicelli: It’s been fun. It’s been a little chaotic at times.
I remember Jon Grell next door mentioned to me when I got hired that as a teacher, 90 percent of your day is controlled and about 10 percent is chaos. As an administrator, it’s just flipped. You control about 10 percent of your day and 90 percent is just things that show up in the moment. I’m juggling the things that need to get done this week versus the stuff that gets plopped in your lap. That’s been the toughest adjustment.
Shinneman: Taking a step back, what got you into English?
Vallicelli: Some people have dreams of being a professional ballplayer, other people want to be a lawyer or a doctor, and I just wanted to be a high school English teacher. My mom has a seventh-grade language arts worksheet, and it’s like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And literally all it says is, “I want to be a high school English teacher.”
This [change to assistant principal] didn’t come to fruition until four or five years ago when I was doing my doctorate, and it was largely because of a note from a gentleman I’m not really close with anymore. At the end of one of my essays that I submitted for the class, it asked for career aspirations, and I said I’d like to be an English chair. ... And at the very end of it, he wrote, ‘Yeah, but some people are called to do more.’
Shinneman: More big picture, education-wise, did you see the latest [national] ACT report that came out?
Vallicelli: I didn’t see the exact numbers yet. I’ve seen our numbers.
Shinneman: That’s kind of what I was going to ask. Do you pay much attention to the big picture or are you focused here?
Vallicelli: We look at the big picture of Woodstock High School as a whole, Woodstock High School compared to other communities, and with that you have to keep in mind demographics. That plays a big role – what kind of English language learners you have or what your special ed population is versus other communities.
We’re still clinging onto old and new systems, too. I think sometimes people get caught up in just one test score result.
Shinneman: What do you mean old and new systems?
Vallicelli: We’re rolling in an entirely new testing system in the coming years called the PARCC [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers]. It’s not entirely going to replace the ACT – the state of Illinois is probably going to hold onto the ACT for a while – but really, schools are going to move to the PARCC.
Shinneman: That’s coming in with the Common Core, right? I didn’t realize that was something colleges looked at.
Vallicelli: Yeah. Well that’s the problem we’re having, is which test should we be getting our kids ready for, right? People want us to have students college ready, and we do, of course. That’s our No. 1 goal is to have them college ready or work ready, either one is great. But yeah, the ACT has college readiness goals, as well. They’re not totally aligned with the Common Core. The Common Core is the new national standards. That’s why I said there’s old and new coming in.
It’s just a change, that’s all. It’s kind of the evolution of education. ... But this one is a little bigger, this is more of a paradigm shift in terms of what it’s going to do looking at student growth.
Shinneman: What do you think of the country’s emphasis on standardized testing as a whole?
Vallicelli: I do think it’s both good and bad because sometimes we compare the United States to other countries, but it’s hardly apples to apples when you compare demographics. ... Numbers can be totally different. ... They may not include a certain population. We include every population in the U.S.
I know this: When lawmakers are making rules and laws about education, whether or not we like that they’re getting involved in education, whether or not we think they’re actual masters of the specific area, they want what’s best.
I never really worry too much about what’s going to happen at the national level because I don’t know if there’s a whole lot I can do about it. What I know I can do is I know I can help here at Woodstock High School.
The Vallicelli lowdown
Family: Missy (wife), Zach (4), Maggie (3), and Claire (3 months).
Favorite book: “The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint” and “Great Expectations”
Favorite weekend activity: Enjoying family time outside and watching Manchester City play soccer on TV with Zach
Favorite food: Chile rellenos, beans and rice