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Haven Middle School Principal Named Golden Apple Finalist for Excellence in Leadership

Chris Latting selected out of more than 130 nominations for his efforts to champion improved culture and climate within the Haven community

Christopher LattingHaven Middle School Principal Chris Latting was named one of six finalists in the prestigious Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Leadership. This award, given by the Golden Apple Foundation, recognizes leaders who have shown “significant and sustained positive impact on the school, created a culture of inclusivity, and delivered dramatic student growth.”

Over 130 nominations were submitted this year in recognition of pre-K-12th grade leaders from across the State of Illinois.

Latting taught middle school and served as assistant principal and principal in Joliet before coming to D65 in summer 2020 and in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. When students returned for in-person learning, it was apparent that drastic changes were needed to better support students and staff, including an intentional focus on culture and climate improvements. 

“This recognition represents an opportunity for our school community to celebrate the hard work, dedication, and collaboration that the students, staff, families, and community partners have poured into Haven,” Latting said. “This is also a moment of great pride for me, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be recognized among such talented and accomplished school leaders.”

Latting was a champion for this work and reimagining Haven to be a school that everyone wanted to be part of. In his endeavors, he wanted to involve students, parents and staff in the plans to improve the culture, and create a learning community where students thrived academically, socially and emotionally while simultaneously doing the same for the teachers and staff.

In the summer of 2022, his first mission was to improve the physical look of the building. He knew that an aesthetically pleasing building and supportive learning environment affects the outlook of students and staff. This included school-wide painting, updated flooring, new lighting, and over 100 inspirational quotes, engaging art, and college and career readiness posters and signage were hung throughout the school, 

The biggest priority was to create a safe and inclusive environment for staff and students. Mr. Latting developed clear school-wide expectations for behavior both in the classroom and in the school’s common areas. He not only provided training and coaching for staff, he also gave teachers skills to enhance their classroom learning environments. He also set clear expectations for students’ roles and responsibilities and communicated those with students.

To support the work, new positions were created and there was a restructuring of administrative roles and student service positions to better support students, staff, and families. Four FACE (Family and Community Engagement) Liaisons were hired to work with students and families. Their role was to guide students using the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) framework and to foster relationships with their parents.

In addition at each grade level there was one assistant principal, a social worker, and a school counselor assigned to support its students, teachers, and staff. He also created smaller teams of students within grade levels so that teams of teachers had more time and space to work with the smaller segment of kids. The smaller student teams also fostered more cohesion and stronger connections and relationships among all.

A class was added this year called AVID, targeted to students from groups who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education. The class, based on the national model, teaches executive functioning skills and college and career readiness to help students on a path to college and career success.

Community partnerships were created, which provide an added layer of social emotional support, connection and resources for students. For example, a partnership with the City of Evanston Youth and Young Adult Outreach pairs students with mentors from city staff, and offers summer employment opportunities.

He felt it was especially important to expand student voice and involvement. To do this, he created the role of student ambassadors, who serve the school in a number of ways. This includes service, collaboration with educators and leaders to support culture and climate, and give student voice to decisions about their school.

Mr. Latting also wanted to expand opportunities for parent involvement and exposure. Virtual Town Halls were added where parents can learn about new initiatives and provide feedback on a number of topics. He added an in-person curriculum night and added information sessions for parents of students with IEPs. In addition, two new family groups were recently formed including the Black Affinity Parent Group and the Haven Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee.
All of this work had a huge impact on the culture of Haven. Students are engaged, staff is happier, behavior is immensely improved and connections between teachers and students are stronger. Perhaps most telling is during Principal Appreciation Week when students waited in line during lunch and recess to sign a special poster of appreciation for Mr. Latting. Messages such as “thank you for being such a supportive and kind principal” and “thank you for being our principal through all the ups and downs. We support you” were written throughout.

The shift can also be seen in recent data. In a survey of 407 students this year, 76.9 percent of students said they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that they were “pushing to improve their own learning.” When asked if they had access to adults who can support their social emotional learning needs, 82.5 percent said they agreed or strongly agreed. Another 71.3 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I feel positive and included in the Haven community.”

“One of Mr. Latting’s greatest strengths is that he is unapologetically centered around his students. He’s visible within the school community and has worked so hard in the wake of the pandemic to foster meaningful relationships within the Haven community,” said Superintendent Horton. “He is incredibly deserving of this recognition and we are so fortunate to have such a caring and passionate leader in District 65. He is the right individual to be at the helm and championed an incredible and much needed transformation that has brought the community together.”

Two recipients will be surprised later this spring with their awards, which includes $10,000 (half of which goes to a school project of their choice), and membership in the Golden Apple Academy of Educators.