Who is the new assistant principal? Meet Ms. Moon-Sarudi

By Isabelle Ravanas, Senior Editor-in-Chief

Having specialized in special education most of her career, Ms. Moon-Sarudi joined Payton as the Assistant Principal of Student Supports. Though she is in charge of supporting Diverse Learners at Payton, Ms. Moon-Sarudi plans on supporting all Payton students in any way she can. I met with her to hear a bit more about her path to Payton and her plans for this year. 

Though primarily responsible for the Diverse Learners department, Ms. Moon-Sarudi intends to support all students at Payton.

Paw Print: What was your favorite subject in high school?
Ms. Moon-Sarudi: My favorite subject was PE. I loved PE. The reason being that you got to learn about your whole body and how to control your body and I just loved all the extra sports that I was introduced to. I was born in Korea and I didn’t move to this country until I was 11. [Because the] educational system in Korea and America is very different, I was never really exposed to [all of these sports] until I got to high school. Foreign parents don’t know what things are offered in school, so they don’t know that there are these competing sports or there are these options where you can learn to become a lifeguard or a CPR class.

Paw Print: What were your career goals in high school?
Ms. Moon-Sarudi: I was actually focused on international business because I speak Korean and I was good at math. I think I was only good at math because English was my second language and so I didn’t have the same confidence, but math is universal, you don’t have to know English to do math. Growing up in Korea, your education is kind of set for you. You just go to school and you’ve got to learn [everything] because high school is very competitive– either you make it or you don’t. So growing up in my household you had to be this professional that everyone looked up to. I didn’t even know what my interests were when I was younger; all I knew was that I had to be somebody important, I had to do something that my parents were proud of. 

Paw Print: What drew you to education?
Ms. Moon-Sarudi: When I was in college, I loved learning. Every class I took made me want to change my major. I got into education because I took a summer job working at a camp for students with disabilities. And that drew my attention to think ‘wow that’s so me’. 

Paw Print: So why high schoolers?
Ms. Moon-Sarudi: When I went to be a special education teacher, we actually had to be certified as special education teachers for ages three through 21. So we had to student-teach in various age ranges. It wasn’t really about being with high schoolers, it was mostly about who needed me the most, that’s why I came to Chicago. During that time, CPS was going through a change of flipping schools that weren’t performing, so they fired all the teachers and hired new teachers. So I found a school that was ranked bottom three least performing schools in Illinois. For me, it was about making the difference, and that was the school where I could make a difference. 

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?
Ms. Moon-Sarudi: I would say that I am the assistant principal supporting student supports. And if they needed to know more, [I would say] I will be there ensuring that we are offering the supports that students need to succeed, and that’s all students, not just students with disabilities.

Paw Print: What are these student supports for students besides Diverse Learners?
Ms. Moon-Sarudi: it’s more of making myself available for students. It’s hard being in high school so I need to understand what the supports are and I think the only way I can learn that is by having that dialogue. I am a director of diverse learners and I think that’s the main priority, supporting students with disabilities. not only the students in Ms.Spencer’s room, [though], disabilities range. Even though that’s what my primary role is, as an administrator overseeing a big high school, you just have to make yourself available to all students. 

Paw Print: What is a general theme for the impact you want to have at Payton?
Ms. Moon-Sarudi: This is a school that has been somewhat operating on its own, and it’s been doing really well, so who am I to come in here and be like ‘this is what I want to see’? And I think that’s why I want to see what is happening and then see where I fit into the puzzle. 

Paw Print: Are there any goals you have for the Diverse Learners department?
Ms. Moon-Sarudi: We’re in the process of defining what a diverse learner is at Payton and defining everyone [in the department]’s roles and responsibilities. Ms. Pearlstein and Mr. Potter are special education teachers and so they are assigned students that they support. All special education teachers in this school, (what I’ve seen so far) work really well together communicating to support all the students. We brainstorm as a team [about individual students]. And then we have the paraprofessionals who are the paraeducators that work side-by-side with the teacher. They are more of a supplemental support based on the IEP and so they’re in the classroom to support the student and make sure they aren’t falling behind. 

Paw Print: What are the most important challenges and biggest obstacles for high school students regardless of neuro-diversity?
Ms. Moon-Sarudi: Finding themselves is the biggest obstacle I think students go through. Figuring out who they are and what group they belong to and what group defines them. 

Paw Print: Why Payton?
Ms. Moon-Sarudi: Payton is a high school in the city. It’s a high school and I was given an opportunity. I’m going to take the opportunity, learn from it, and hopefully, in the end, there will be some type of impact. And again, this is a great school and it’s been operating really well with top-tier students, but things are changing, and rightfully so. Without change, we can’t make any progress.

Paw Print: When you came to Payton, did you see any specific things at Payton that triggered you to be like “Oh, this needs to be fixed”?
Ms. Moon-Sarudi: What I’ve seen so far is that everyone is doing what they need to do, but the culture has to shift. The way that Payton was created was to draw in the top students, and top students only. But now the district is looking at it through an equity lens. The district is trying to make sure that every student in the city of Chicago has some sort of access to our educational system. So no, I didn’t come in to say ‘I’m going to fix the Special Education department’. This team is rocking it- they’re an amazing group of people. Teaching isn’t about lecturing in front of the students all day, you have to look at the holistic child, not just one area. My end goal is that we will be a world-class school [that] people are going to [look at] to see how equity works and how every child has reasonable and realistic access. 

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