By Isabelle Ravanas, Senior Editor-in-Chief
Having worked in high schools for 26 years and administration for the last ten or so, Mr. Arabie is joining Payton as a new assistant principal. Hoping to build bridges between staff, faculty, students, and parents, I met with Mr. Arabie to understand a bit more about what brought him to Payton and how he’ll reach his goals as a new assistant principal.
Paw Print: What was your high school experience like?
Mr. Arabie: I went to Oak Park River Forest, my mom was a teacher there, but we had just moved up here from New Orleans. It was a really large school; I think I graduated with close to 900 people. I’d say that overall, my high school experience was average: I played some sports, joined some clubs, made some friends, but trying to avoid having anyone know my mom was a teacher there was big. I kind of got lost in the mix; I wasn’t super awful, I wasn’t super great. With such a large population of students, it was easy to get just lost in the crowd.
Paw Print: What was your favorite subject in high school?
Mr. Arabie: My favorite subject in high school was definitely history, especially world history, and it sprung me into becoming a history teacher. I found that my history teachers were just more animated about the topic. They definitely loved history, which made me love it.
Paw Print: What were your career goals in high school?
Mr. Arabie: So springboarding off of that mediocre experience in high school, there was an impression at the time, at least in Oak Park, that most students were post-secondary bound. What that meant was a variety of things, but there was not an option to not do anything. So I felt like I was going to college because it was the next step of things I had to do. I didn’t do too much investigation at the time of what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go, but once I got to college I loved college, and found myself on a different trajectory of life and studying history.
Paw Print: So why education?
Mr. Arabie: So it starts with my mom, obviously she was a teacher, and it starts with my mom’s question, maybe sophomore year of college: ‘So what are you going to do with your history degree?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know right now. I just want to get one.’ She was like ‘what do you think you can do with a history degree?’ At the time I really wasn’t thinking about teaching, the idea of spending the rest of my life in a school building after I had just tried to get out of a school building seemed antithetical, but I really put a lot of thought into it and met with a few people and decided that education was going to be the best pursuit. I don’t have any regrets about doing that.
Paw Print: So what made you make that jump from teaching to administration?
Mr. Arabie: Quite honestly I got my administration degree because it felt like the next thing to do. But I didn’t want to become an administrator; I wanted to stay in the classroom. So for the last 10 years, I stayed in the classroom training teachers, still being able to deal with students, still being able to be with teachers, but still being able to share with administration those successes and challenges that teachers get to have with those students in class. It eventually led me to think ‘I think I can do that and still be on an administrative team and not feel like I’m sitting in an office all day and instead get to be in a school where teaching and learning are happening at such a pace.’
Paw Print: A random freshman in the hallway asks you to describe your position at Payton but the bell is about to ring, how do you answer?
Mr. Arabie: I’m one of the many APs at Payton here this year. I handle advisories, lockers, and seminars as some of my main duties, so if you have any questions about those, come my way, if you have other questions, I’m happy to direct you to where you can go to . But if you need anything I’m just an email away.
Paw Print: How do you find a way to still be in the classroom?
Mr. Arabie: Myself and Ms. Imrem run the new-to-Payton teacher cohort and during seminar, new teachers have a seminar with me and it’s about getting used to Payton, what happens here, what we can do to support them, and what support they need. And so really, I get to be two-on-one with them. Then I spend a large part of my week trying to just peek into their classroom and see what’s going on, see if I can give them some feedback, help them out, give them a high five.
Paw Print: What are the most important challenges and biggest obstacles for high school students?
Mr. Arabie: I think each generation has its own thing. And luckily, being in high schools for the past 26 years, l have my finger on the pulse of what is happening in young peoples’ lives. And I just think that the world is moving faster than it has ever moved before and it’s going to be exponentially faster. For instance, when I graduated from college the internet had just started, and the idea of communicating and getting information and receiving information was still stuck in a book, something you had to crack open and go get. And what I mean is that info is everywhere and not always accurate and there is a lot of decision-making about what is and what isn’t [accurate] that I didn’t have to do. And inevitably, I think that makes high schoolers and teenagers ready for what’s coming, I’m just interested in seeing what is coming. In the last five years, things have moved fast, what’s going to happen next? And how prepared will [teenagers] be for that? And how will [teenagers] be part of the solution to that or create systems that make that easier for everyone?
Paw Print: What are some of the goals you want to achieve at Payton by the end of this year?
Mr. Arabie: I want to be able to say that after the year is over, that with all of the changes from administration, a COVID pandemic, [etc.] that this administration, myself included, has helped build some bridges between students, teachers, parents, faculty, staff, to lay a new foundation moving forward. I know it’s been turbulent, but I haven’t been here for that turbulence, so all I can do is make connections so that people know that there is firm footing to stand on here in the building. And that’s going to be done in a variety of different ways. I think globally that’s what I’m thinking. From a micro perspective, I really want my new teachers to be successful and know what it means to be a Payton teacher.
Paw Print: Why Payton?
Mr. Arabie: I have been working in education everywhere that is not like Payton, such as schools that have had many challenges from a variety of different scenarios. [I tried] to make sure teachers were teaching those students as best as they can with what they had. I remember when Payton was built, I was a naysayer. How are you going to put the best of the best in one place and have it work? Nobody was doing that then. So I’ve purposefully kept things like this at arm’s length, but as I’ve moved into administration, working with teachers who just want the best for students regardless of where they are, I thought it was time to take a look behind the doors and stop judging.
Paw Print: What are some differences you’ve noticed between other schools you’ve been at and Payton?
Mr. Arabie: One of the initial things is resources, such as the types of buildings students are in. We have a toilet here that I think isn’t working and students are upset. [At other schools] we’d have a whole bathroom not working or a whole floor not working. Then all of the other things that are available. Everyone here has a one-on-one Chromebook. People are still working on that in different places. Having that technology and even access to the internet be a challenge [elsewhere] really shows differences between different places in the city. Also, you are one of many student emails I have received, advocating for something, asking for something [the sheer amount of which] I have never received. It’s just different to hear students [advocating for something] upfront, instead of trying to rectify it after you realize that there is an issue. It’s refreshing to hear students be in that frame of mind. But It’s alarming in the sense that it’s new to my experience.