Randy Sienkowski became the second person named to the Downing/Williams Endowed Chair of Teaching Excellence, a position he holds for the 2020-21 academic year. The title was established in 2018 with the philanthropic support of alumni parents Nancy and Bruce Downing, parents of Yates ’12; Charlotte ’14; Tommy ’17; and Michael ’19. Endowed Chairs are synonymous with exceptional faculty and teaching excellence. The recipient receives a stipend and a professional development award.
Q: What was your path to working at PD?
When I was in college at Purdue, I would come down to work in a summer camp in Hendersonville, NC, and I made a number of connections with people in the area. After graduating, I got a job teaching in my hometown of Valparaiso, IN. One spring break, I came down to see some of my old camp friends, one of whom, Ross Peters, was teaching at PD. I actually met with him at school, and the next thing I knew, I was interviewing for a job.
Q: What roles have you had at PD?
It is hard to believe, but for my entire 30 years at PD, I have taught 7th-grade math, and the same two courses: Math 7 and Advanced Pre-Algebra. When I meet new people and tell them what I do, they generally think I must be crazy. To many people, math and 7th graders are just a terrible way to spend a day, but it is just right for me. Like most teachers here, I have had a number of roles. I am currently the Middle School Math Department Chair, the Dean of the Summer Academic Program, and I am an assistant varsity cross country coach. I have also coached basketball and track over the years, and I have served as the 7th Grade Level Dean.
Q: How has PD impacted you and your family?
This is a strange year for me because, for the first time in about 18 years, I do not have a child at PD. My son Jordan graduated in 2016, and Jacob was in the class of 2020. This school has played a big part in helping to shape them into the people they are today. Of course, they were well prepared for the academic side of college, but the connections they made with teachers here will last a lifetime.
For me personally, I have had the opportunity to do things I never could have done had I stayed in Indiana. Thanks to PD, I have traveled the world: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Israel, Honduras. These are experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Q: What are some of your most memorable moments as a teacher?
I would frame this more as my most memorable moments are when I totally get off topic during class and we laugh about something ridiculous. I love it when a student comes back to me years down the road and asks me if I remember the time when…? Sometimes I will remember the incident, and sometimes I do not, but that is OK because it was memorable for that student.
Q: What is unique about the students and community you interact with at PD?
The kids I get to teach are remarkable. Do students always say ‘thank you’ as they leave class at all schools? I can’t imagine that is the case. I am still blown away by the work my students did when we had to go to fully remote classes last spring. The stress of preparing to try to teach in these crazy circumstances was pretty high, but I was able to make it through because of the positive energy boost I got every day from my students, even through the screen of my laptop.
When I think of the PD community, I also think about the amazing people I get to work with every day. The Middle School faculty and the people in my Middle School math department, in particular, are absolutely the best. I am lucky to be able to say that when I go to work, and I get to be with my best friends.
Q: What was your reaction when your name was called as the winner of the Downing/Williams Chair of Teaching Excellence?
It was kind of an out of body experience. There were no parents at the graduation ceremony because of our current crowd restrictions, but I was asked to be there as a faculty member. In fact, my original plan was to stay home and just watch it streamed online with the rest of my family. I was asked a second time to be there, kind of a nudge by someone who knew what was coming. I am still overwhelmed with this honor and can’t really believe that it happened. I am grateful to the Downing/Williams family and to those who thought I am deserving of this award.
Q: How do you plan to use the award?
This is not a decision to be taken lightly, so I am going to take my time in deciding what to do. I have some ideas that involve travel, so I might have to wait before it becomes possible to do so. I am just so glad to have the opportunity to experience something that will help me to make a positive contribution to the whole middle school.
Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of school?
I am a big sports fan, so I live and die with teams from my past: the Cubs, Bulls, and Bears, along with the Panthers and Hornets. Being able to run and work out during the pandemic has been a blessing and has helped keep me sane.