He Brought a Team Concept to Batavia's Middle Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Gala Pierce Daily Herald Staff Writer

Harold Wolff started with the Batavia school district in 1989 as principal of the junior high. Sixteen years later, he's retiring as the leader of an award-winning middle school.

During that time, Wolff, 55, has kept the needs of students the top priority.

"Schools make decisions all the time, but ultimately we have to ask ourselves, is it good for kids?" said Wolff, who retires as principal of Rotolo Middle School this summer. "That's my philosophy."

Wolff is known for his collaborative leadership style, said Steve Maciejewski, Rotolo assistant principal for student services.

"If you were to go around and ask people, the common thread would be that his decisions were always based on what is good for kids," Maciejewski said.

Wolff has many favorite memories of his time in Batavia. He recalls all the artwork that has covered the school's walls and all the concerts and plays.

"It's all those things put together," he said.

An avid photographer, Wolff has taken pictures of his students and proudly hung them on the school walls.

The key points in Wolff's tenure include a new school building, an addition to that building and the transition from a junior high to a middle school.

"You'll be sorely missed at the district," board President Ron Link told Wolff at a recent school board meeting. "As things evolved, you've helped us lead this district in a position where we're looking forward to the future."

Philosophy change

When school officials wanted to transform the junior high school to a middle school, the district knew just the person to turn to.

Wolff was not only knowledgeable, but he also was an advocate of the middle school movement.

"The very first job I had in 1972 was a full-fledged middle school," Wolff said, referring to his days as an orchestra teacher in Bloomington.

He belonged to the Association of Illinois Middle Schools, first as a board member and eventually as president.

The organization was started in 1976. It identified ways to tailor to the needs of the young adolescent by using "teams," in which students would get assigned to a group of teachers who could get to know the students better and provide smaller learning environments within a larger school.

"I came here 16 years ago with a vision about middle school teaming, and I think that's turned out really well, but I learned a few things," Wolff said. "One of the things I learned is that there are more teams than just at the middle school level."

He also credited the school board, the administration, the middle school staff and all the involved parents and volunteers of the district.

Other aspects of the middle school philosophy include having an advisory period where teachers deal with social and emotional issues of students, mixing students of different abilities in classes, more parental involvement and allowing students to take exploratory classes.

After serving as an assistant principal in Bloomington and then at Naperville's Gregory Middle School in the late 1980s, Wolff was hired as principal of the Batavia Junior High School in the old building on Route 31 in 1989.

The transition to a middle school took a year of study, Wolff said. Mary Jaeger, principal of the old McWayne School, as well as Superintendent Ed Cave, were instrumental in the change.

Over the years, other educators have looked to Wolff for help in changing their school from a junior high to a middle school. …