Promoting student learning still goal for assistant principal

As assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at Hinsdale Central High School, Jessica Hurt knows every day will include a few surprises. A particularly happy surprise came recently when she got a phone call informing her that she had been named the Assistant Principal of the Year for the DuPage Region by the Illinois Principals Association.

Hurt didn't even know that Principal Bill Walsh had nominated her for the honor, which recognizes individuals who meet a long list of criteria involving advocacy for education and support of student learning. She is now busy completing an application that will allow her to continue in the association's search for State Assistant Principal of the Year. The winner of that award will be announced in just a few months.

Hurt, who is in the final steps of earning her doctorate in education from Northern Illinois University, is in her 20th year in education and her 16th year at Hinsdale Central. Prior to coming to Central as an AP government and world cultures teacher, Hurt taught at Oswego and Oswego East high schools.

She said she applied to Central on a whim, but soon found a place that has allowed her to make big strides on her path toward becoming a principal.

Hurt said she believes her willingness and ability to change for the better helped with her selection by the IPA.

"We always want to grow and get better," she said. Rather than rest in what's comfortable and working, she finds ways to move forward and to grow. Those skills became crucial in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The pandemic really tested us," she said, and forced everyone at Central to make quick changes that would maintain standards while also supporting the needs of adults and students.

Throughout her time at Central, Hurt has worked to find new ways to support students for whom school isn't always easy. The earned honors credit classes, for example, provide a path for students to test the waters of advanced classes.

"We've seen that sometimes students who are doing well on national and state assessments are not always making their way into honors and AP classes," Hurt said. Earned honors credit is a pilot program that offers four regular-level classes that contain opportunities for students to demonstrate honors-level skills. Hurt said the classes are intended to be an on-ramp for students who are hesitant to embark on the school's higher-level courses.

"We have a lot of students who are on that frontage road," Hurt said.

Hurt said she welcomes opportunities to work with students directly. Whether it's through Central's principal-student advisory committee or meetings with students who have questions and concerns about their own personal curriculum, Hurt said she is dedicated to helping students learn.

As Hurt works toward her goal to become a high school principal, she hasn't lost sight of why she entered the field of education.

"I miss teaching so much," she said "My favorite place to be is working with students."

- story by Sandy Illian Bosch, photo by Jim Slonoff