Mr. Mike Berrie, Our Principal

Mike Berrie welcoming parents and visitors to Round Lake Senior High School in his principal's message 
http://www.rlas-116.org/1/Content2/380

Mike Berrie welcoming parents and visitors to Round Lake Senior High School in his principal's message http://www.rlas-116.org/1/Content2/380

Jayda Delatorre

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A new face walks down the hall this year. He is unfamiliar, but he holds himself with such confidence that everyone around him takes notice. He is lean and tall, his head peeks up over the mass of students, weaving their way through the halls. His dark grey fleece sweater contrasts with his light skin, and his lanyard dangles as his face lights up and he waves at a student. Glancing over, he nods his head at a few teachers, they all nod back with a small smile.

He is Mike Berrie, the new principal at Round Lake High School.

Here at Round Lake High School, a tremendous amount of change has been coming. After the new renovations last year, and then the changes in grading, everyone is still adjusting. To put the cherry on top, we have a new principal replacing our old beloved Dr. Donn Mendoza. Many may be curious about who this new face is walking along our halls. I know I was, and I was about to find out.

As I walked into his office, I felt very at ease, albeit a bit out of place. I sat in a cushioned chair, pulled out my Chromebook, and waited. Berrie came striding out from behind a wall. He seemed happy and told me to follow him. His energy filled up the room, and in a flurry, I abandoned my backpack and jacket and excitedly followed him into his office. I was familiar with the office, having been here a few times to chat with Dr. Mendoza, but instead of sitting at his desk, he took a seat at the clean white table and kicked his feet back. The sun was shining through the window, and after some casual banter, I was ready to get to know who Berrie was.

I started out with something simple. “How do you feel about our school?” He smiled. “I love it. I don’t ever feel like I’m coming to work because it’s such a cool place to be. Kids are great, staff is great, I enjoy everything about the place, I can’t think of a new place I’d rather be.” The sincerity in his voice was evident.

Mike Berrie, and his wife, enjoying a meal.  

 

Mr. Berrie has a wife who is also a teacher, but for fourth graders, and a daughter who is 18 and just started her first year at the University of Illinois. “Her being gone came as a shock because for 18 years she was by our side, and then all of a sudden now she’s gone.” He shrugged, obviously missing his daughter, but he didn’t let it phase him. He then exclaimed he also has a Shichon, Lucy. “She’s so cute; she’s like a little dust mop!” A dog enthusiast. I knew I liked him for a reason.

I wanted to start from the beginning. “What were you like as a student? Where did you grow up?” I asked him. “I grew up in Wheeling, IL. If you’ve seen ‘Stranger Things,’ I was about their age living in that early 80’s setting.”

For those who don’t know, “Stranger Things” is a spooky supernatural show based in Hawkins, Indiana in the 80’s, where their sense of style was a bit different from nowadays. Immediately, I imagined him with the same curly locks as Dustin, one of the main characters, or a big fuzzy afro. I mentioned this to him.

 

“I did have hair!” He laughed. “I wasn’t bald all my life.”

Berrie back in his highschool days after a track practice.

He went on explaining. “I went to Wheeling High School in 1984, graduated in 1988. Then I went to Northeastern for awhile, and I’m currently pursuing my doctoral degree at Accordia college.”

He described how back in his high school years, he was a student athlete, playing soccer and running track all four years in high school. Aside from that, he was in National Honors Society and student council, and on top of that, he managed to get good grades, especially in social studies. However, math was a bit of a sore spot. Berrie reminisced about back in elementary school days when timed tests for quick simple math problems like addition or multiplication were a thing. He says “I think when I was a kid during those ti

med tests I developed a sort of math-phobia; I can’t quite conquer that one.”

Obviously, this math phobia hasn’t hindered him from being in education, however Berrie has continued with his preference for social studies based jobs throughout his career. Prior to working for Round Lake, he was a social studies teacher in Waukegan ,teaching classes like AP U.S. History and American Studies. He also did many other job roles, such as being a social studies department chair member, a house principal, and a soccer coach for both boys and girls about 20 years.

As for here, Mr. Berrie has been working in Round Lake for four years now. He was the director of teaching and learning for our district, and is actually a lot more familiar with our school than some may think. He explains, “My office was located in the high school, which is nice because before becoming the principal, I was just another employee and got to know quite a bit of the staff.” He pauses. “We have about…150 teachers, and I think I know everybody by name.” Smiling, he jokes, “The kids’ names are a different story. That’s the hard part.” I laughed. Imagine having to learn over 2,000 students’ names.

Focusing back on our school, I asked him what he thought about some of the perceptions about Round Lake, many of so which are very negative. Berrie went into saying how these perceptions are definitely not accurate. “Maybe 10 or 12 years ago, things were different, but that isn’t the case now,” he said. “People come in, walk around, see the kids, and they think, ‘Wow this totally isn’t what I thought it was.’ Part of my job is getting people to see how awesome Round Lake is.” Another interesting thing about Round Lake is that our school is predominantly not white, and we have a lot of different cultures and skin colors and diversity in our school. Berrie agreed, describing how “Waukegan was a pretty Hispanic school, so I’ve never really had the experience of teaching at a predominantly white school like so many are, and nor would I want to, to be honest. I like seeing all different types of people, not just one majority.”

Also regarding the students, Berrie very much enjoys how much he enjoys making a difference in students’ lives. Being in the education system since the early 90s, Berrie has seen generations of kids grow up and transform from these freshman, who are really just “extra large eighth graders”, to seniors embarking on their lives and futures. Especially with him being a soccer coach for almost 20 years, this man has not only observed students going through a metamorphosis, but got to take part in that and help shape them as people. He described this to me, saying “It’s better than any paycheck you could ever provide.”

Since he has been an educator for so long, I asked him about standardized testing, since as a teacher he has seen how it affects the classroom. He responds, calling it a “necessary evil”, going on to say “I hate the fact that it’s overemphasized, and in many places, kids get reduced to nothing but a score or a number. Kids are more than a number on a piece of paper.” and saying he hopes one day we can evade all the emphasis our schools has put on the whole system.

Obviously, Berrie really cares about his students as people. I further questioned him regarding the mental health and stress levels students seem to accumulate throughout high school. He began by saying he hates how much pressure kids put

Provided by Mike Berrie

Berrie’s dog, Lucy

on themselves. “Everyone has a future, and sometimes challenges are put in front of us to make us stronger, but often we ask high school students to grow much faster than they should. You know, we take away recess from kids because we have to learn more and more, but recess is important too. One of the things I want to do is push kids towards high expectations, but also not at the expense of their mental health.” He pauses, “We, as a society, don’t do a good enough job of helping kids navigate some difficult waters as they grow up. What happens in the classroom is important,but we also need to support our students outside of that, or they could feel lost and alone.” I agreed.


“What is one thing you hate?”

He thought for a minute, saying there isn’t much he truly hates. “I hate liver. I definitely don’t like eating liver.” I laughed.“In all seriousness, I don’t like when people are close-minded when people judge too quick. Everybody is unique, and everyone has a different story, and I think we need to honor those stories. People are so quick to shut them down and judge them.”

He continued.“As a society, we’ve become a lot more close-minded, we’ve become divided, this country is supposed to have our freedoms, and that’s what makes us unique. I believe everyone has the right to express those rights and voice our opinions in different ways, and our country needs to embrace that, but not force it.”

Provided by Mike Berrie

Berrie’s Wife and Daughter.

Switching to something a bit lighter, I asked him if he ever imagined himself

Provided by Mike Berrie
Berrie after a track practice back in his high school daysbecoming a principal. He talked about how when he went to get his license to be an administrator, he was still very passionate about teaching and never really aspired to do anything besides that. However, now that he is principal, he really loves it. Of course there are challenges, but he says the liveliness of the school and the liveliness of the students fuel him on. “When I was an administrator, I didn’t get the chance to interact with the students too much, and I did miss that a lot. So now, I love being back into and around the building where I get to talk to the kids and feel like a part of the school.”

I asked him if he wasn’t doing this, what job would he want to have instead. He said he likes his job a lot, but maybe if  there were the same opportunities in his youth that there are now, his career could have looked very different. “I grew up in a time in which my options were a little limited. But if I had Project Lead the Way, when I was growing up, I don’t know that I’d be here today.” He paused. “When I learned to type, it was on an actual typewriter. Computers were pretty rudimentary when I grew up.”

As for future changes to expect at Round Lake High School, Berrie described the switch the school is trying to make to the competency-based learning system.“Say a kid is in that classroom and knows everything in that classroom, why should they have to be in there?” He plans to have a more blended learning model in just a few years. “This may mean you could have English only three days a week and then go to math the other two. It’d be individualized based on what each student needs.”

As I left, I felt reassured. It was obvious our principal is not only cares about our education, but he also values students beyond their grades, as people. Along with that, he is passionate about learning, about making progress, and about trying new things. I could tell our futures are in good hands.