BY MORGAN MONTOYA AND CLAIRE DAWSON
After thirteen years, we will bid a fond farewell and happy retirement to Mr. Zurawski,
Coonley Elementary School’s Principal. Mr. Zurawski joined Coonley as Assistant Principal in 2008 and after Mrs. Kartheiser’s retirement became Principal in 2010. He graduated from Michigan State University (Go Spartans!). Mr. Z began his career in the hospitality industry and worked managing the Walnut Room at Marshall Fields for many years. An avid math and numbers guy, he decided to seek a teaching degree to share this interest with students. Mr. Zurawski was a teacher at Stockton Elementary School, and later became a Math Coach for Area 2. He served as Assistant Principal at Audubon Elementary and Clinton Elementary, before coming to Coonley. Like Mr. Zurawski, we will be retiring upon graduation as co-editors of the Coonley Chronicle and enjoyed this opportunity to learn more about Mr. Zurawski and share our Coonley Memories.
What will you miss the most about Coonley?
Lots of things. The people, the students, the noise… the energy. Running up and down the stairs, which helped keep me fit. You know, just the interactions. I mean, Coonley is just a great place with a lot of wonderful students and supportive families, so that’s what I’ll miss the most. For sure. And seeing the smiles when you guys do something well.
What were some challenges you faced during your time at Coonley?
I would have to say the pandemic was huge. I would also say, if you haven’t noticed, we’re a little tight on space. Managing the space in the building has been challenging as well. Just to make sure that everyone has working space, working rooms so that kids still feel comfortable. Just because we’ve had to relocate a lot of classrooms. You know, the Spanish teachers at one point had their own classroom. You actually went to the Spanish teachers for Spanish language instruction. And unfortunately, that only lasted one year. So, just managing all that. And then the pandemic, when we went from [in person to full remote] and trying to support the teachers and really keep everything going. So I think that everybody rose to the challenge and I think that was successful, but that was certainly one of the challenges, especially of the most recent time.
What's the biggest thing you’ll take away from working at Coonley?
Probably the friendships. I mean, just the interactions and the people. That is huge. And, you know, this is my first position as a principal, so I think [I’ll take away] how much I’ve learned. I’ve been here 13 years so we’ve all grown a lot together. So the growth I’ve experienced here I’ll take with me. But also, mostly the relationships and friendships.
What has been your biggest achievement?
Not that it was totally me who accomplished it, but I was here during a time of extreme growth. When I first got here, we were about 380 students, and we grew to well over 1,000. Another example, from one building to adding the Annex. I think guiding and managing that growth [was a big achievement]. I’m very proud of the people we’ve hired at Coonley, and I think we’ve brought in really talented staff that do a phenomenal job with the kids. You have to think of the students who’ve graduated as an achievement as well. We’ve got some wonderful kids who are going to do some amazing things in high school and college. When you’ve been here as long as we have, it’s wild to imagine that some of our former middle schoolers are in their 20s now! Monitoring that growth was something that was really fun. We want to make sure we’re bringing in a collective group of experiences through our programs, like languages, art, PE, music, and drama, so you guys can explore and [discover] a little more about yourselves. Elementary school is the time where you should try something, and if you don’t like it, move onto something else. High school and college are where you should know a bit more about yourself so you can go deeper [into those fields]. We really try to make it so you guys can try this and that and really get to know yourself, so when you’re entering into your teenage years, you have a better sense of who you are.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to take some time this summer. It was funny, I saw someone else who said that she was leaving soon, and one of the things that she said was “time”. She had been working for a very long time, and [she needed] just a pause, and I’ve always said that there’s nothing wrong with taking a pause. I’m going to pause this summer. I’m hopeful that the city will be back, because I do like to have fun. Summers are fun for me. In the fall, I think I will look at some volunteer opportunities and ways to get more invested in the community. I also want to travel. I’m cautiously optimistic about Chicago getting back to normal in July, but I’ll wait until things are back to normal universally before traveling.
What is a message you would give to your students?
Put in the effort. Put in the effort, challenge yourself, and take chances. I think that some of the really fun times are when I’ve seen kids that came in in kindergarten, first, second grade, gifted program, neighborhood program, and they were quiet and shy and then all of a sudden they were cast in the musical or the play and I’m looking at the kids names who were cast and I’m thinking “Wow, I can’t believe that that child is going to be one of the leads.” It's just so cool to be able to see how the kids have kind of matured and grown. But that doesn't come unless you put in the effort, that doesn't come unless you take a chance and go out for something new.
Thank you for all your dedication and commitment to Coonley, Mr. Z. We’ll miss you.