As a teenager, Courtney DeMent wandered the halls of her high school where her mother was the principal, thinking she would go on to be a nurse.
Instead, DeMent is wrapping up her first month as Downers Grove North High School’s new principal.
DeMent is following in the footsteps of former principal Janice Schwarze, who retired at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
Taking over the reins after a time when virtual learning had become the norm, DeMent said she is looking forward to seeing students fill the halls.
“One of my guiding principles is to remember that we have to continue to ask is this best for the students,” DeMent said. “That can be difficult, and that’s OK … but we have to continue to reflect and make sure the decisions we make are best for all kids.”
DeMent, who held numerous positions at Addison Trail High School over the course of her 19-year career in education, said one thing educators can learn from the virtual learning experience is that the education system is capable of providing individualized experiences to students.
Each student is like a puzzle, DeMent said, and it is an educator’s job to help students find their passion or “missing piece.”
DeMent said the faculty at the school has been incredibly supportive and welcoming to her, and, for that reason, she believes the Downers Grove North community can support its students as they navigate the return to in-person learning.
“It’s not easy, but we’re not here to do what’s easy,” DeMent said. “We’re here to do what’s best for the kids.”
Community High School District 99 Superintendent Henry Thiele said DeMent is stepping in during a time when there are a number of challenges facing her and the students but he is confident the district made the best choice in hiring DeMent. Thiele said DeMent’s student-centered outlook and diverse background made her the perfect candidate out of the 50 applicants.
DeMent has spent much of her time around people whom she considers great principals, and she completed her doctoral work assessing what it is that makes a principal great. Because of this, Thiele said, DeMent is able to draw upon the best parts of each leader before her and become even stronger as she begins to lead 2,300 Downers Grove North students.
“I don’t think we could have made a better choice,” Thiele said. “She’s going to be establishing a new culture in an exciting time but one that also has a lot of challenges coming with it. She’s up to the challenge though [and] has spent her whole career getting to this point.”
Thiele said he believes DeMent’s mindset and openness will be an advantage as she navigates the challenge of reestablishing students and staff back to school. He said he encourages parents and students to be open-minded as well and to come and meet DeMent any chance they get.
The opportunities to do so will be abundant, it seems. DeMent said one thing she took from her mother is the importance of attending extracurricular events to develop relationships. When her mother was a principal and DeMent was a child, she said the family often went to school events such as football games.
Doing so created memories that fill her childhood, and she said she now sees that attending events outside of school is one of the best parts of being a principal. She intends to bring her three children with her, she said, to build that same love for school in them and develop relationships with her students along the way.
“It’s very clear that [at Downers Grove North] it’s a community and we’re a family,” DeMent said. “I love it. One of the things I’m most passionate about is getting kids excited to find their passion … and there are very passionate people at Downers Grove.”