Director update: Candidate Jeffrey Walkington visits Uni
The Latin School of Chicago VP wraps up the list of finalists to make the trip
Published: Saturday, February 14, 2009 - 12:32am
The last of four director candidates to make the trip to Uni, Jeffrey Walkington has a Ph.D. in English and currently serves as vice president of academic affairs at the Latin School of Chicago, a prestigious private institution. He visited Uni on Thursday. His previous positions include both teaching and administrative work at the Webb School in Knoxville, Tenn., and the Cannon School in Concord, N.C. He is a native of central Illinois, having grown up in the Bloomington-Normal area. He earned his bachelor's degree in English and French at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and his master's and doctorate in English at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He fondly remembers traveling to the Assembly Hall to attend concerts in the late 1970s.
Jeffrey Walkington engages with students during Thursday's lunchtime session. Laughter filled the room frequently as he used humor to break the ice. Gargoyle photos by Katy Metcalf (click to enlarge)
Walkington is vice president of academic affairs at the Latin School of Chicago. He has extensive experience with independent schools, including one in Tennessee and another in North Carolina. (click to enlarge)
URBANA — Students filter slowly into Room 109, by themselves or in pairs. "Is this it?" they all ask. "Is this where the director candidate will be?"
In truth their questions are justified; the room is almost empty and there's no new director candidate to be seen. Minutes tick by, and finally Jeffrey Walkington enters the room, accompanied by social studies teacher Billy Vaughn.
He takes off his jacket, adjusts his tie, walks around introducing himself to the assembled students and faculty, kidding with a Gargoyle photographer. After a few more minutes, it's time to begin, and he returns to the center of the room to introduce himself.
"Why do you want this job?" a student asks.
"I want this job for a lot of reasons," says the central Illinois native, who proceeds to give a brief overview of his career, starting with his first teaching job — at "kind of a rough" public school.
Despite the challenges he faced there, including calls in the middle of the night about impending student fights possibly involving guns, Walkington says he "loved public school."
But as he finished his doctorate, he received an invitation to teach at the Webb School in Knoxville. He's worked in private schools ever since.
"I love private schools because I thought my colleagues were really, really smart, like your teachers," he says energetically, "and I thought the students were really, really smart and engaged. Everything I read about Uni sounds like the three private schools I've been to. You guys are kind of a hybrid between public and private. I see myself as a hybrid between public and private. There are things I like about public schools that I take to private schools — sometimes it's a little more diversity, a little bit more democracy. …
"To answer your question: I like the public stuff [about Uni], I like the size. I've talked to some alums … they all love the size, they love the relationships, which I would like. I see some wonderful teaching as I've walked around. I just feel at home here. I feel comfortable here."
His family, too, would appreciate the move. He mentions that his 10-year-old son, who has complained "there's nothing to do in Chicago," would enjoy Champaign-Urbana for its open spaces.
Walkington, a longtime English teacher, expresses interest in continuing to teach while he is director. He jokes that if were director he could hire himself for having passion for the subject, then fire himself for not doing an adequate job.
More seriously, he says he'd do a thorough job as director, having a strong background in both fundraising and administrative work. He smiles, and walks over to junior Brittany Scheid.
"This is how it works," he says, leaning in to give her a light-hearted example of his fundraising approach.
"I make three trips to, say, San Francisco. Not like a vacation — make that LA … LA in the winter —anyway, I make three trips to LA, round up all the Uni grads there, get them talking about what they loved about Uni. Then on the fourth trip I say, 'You've been saying all these nice things about Uni, and we know what you're making, so cough up.'"
The audience laughs, as it does frequently during the session.
"Except I wouldn't say it like that." He holds out his hands, smiles, and speaks softly. "'We know what you're making, so cough up!'"
The students laugh again at his amiability, and a few more raise their hands.
Later on in the session, the all-important question of facilities renovation is brought up by senior Lor Sligar.
"I know you have plans for that, but I don't see a reason to change much," Walkington says. His shoes give a solid noise as they hit the wood floors. "I like the charm of this school. I've taught in so many new facilities. … I'm done with whiteboards."
He looks at the long chalkboard behind him, its message about math exams and homework looking somewhat out of place.
A few students' hands remain up, but Walkington announces that he will take no more questions; instead, he will ask them.
"What's your favorite part of Uni?"
Answers spring from all corners of the room: "The lounge." "The freedom." "The academics."
"The facilities!" cries another to a mixed response of cheers and groans.
"Well," Walkington chuckles, "what's your least favorite part?"
"Fitness!" shouts someone from the back. Walkington, who says he has recently lost 60 pounds and pledges to shed 60 more, shakes his head, but his comments are cut short by the bell.
All four candidates have now visited Uni.