Marginalia, Graduate Blog

Elementary Education Faculty Spotlights: Dr. Katie Paciga & Dr. Kathleen Loftus

Christine Reed

Happy Fall

Happy Fall

It is fall, and not just the leaves are changing.  Change is happening in Columbia’s Education Department and it’s a very good thing!  Columbia College Chicago’s Education Department has two new full-time faculty this year who are doing great work in the field of early childhood education, K-12 education, literacy and technology, and higher ed.  And I’d love to introduce them to you.  Meet Dr. Katie Paciga and Dr. Kathleen Loftus, our newest members of the Education Department faculty.

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Dr. Katie Paciga

What is your position in Columbia’s Education Department?

I am an Assistant Professor of Education.  I teach part of my load in the Early Childhood Education program and part in the Masters (MAT) program.  Currently, in the MAT program, I teach Educational Psychology, and in the ECE program I teach Primary Reading Methods. I’ll be teaching Methods for Language Arts and Content Area Reading in the Spring semester.

How long have you been at Columbia?

I’ve been at Columbia since August 16 of this year.

What attracted you to work for Columbia?

I was itching to get back into Chicago and Columbia is a unique place, in that, it allows you to approach education from an arts background. When you do this, you can see more of the grey than the black and white in education.  A lot of people here see more of the grey, so it’s a refreshing perspective for me. At my interview for the job, I thought, “Working with artists in education, whoa, it brings a completely different perspective than what I’m used to.” So, I’m stretching myself to think outside of my literacy box here, and that’s a welcome change.

Dr. Katie Paciga teaching Educational Psychology

Dr. Katie Paciga teaching Educational Psychology

What did you do before working at Columbia?  What did your Elementary Education career look like?

I completed my undergrad at Loyola, a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish Language.  Then I got a job teaching in Berwyn, a primarily Hispanic community, teaching two sections of half day kindergarten (28 kids in each section, by myself, 85% of the students were English Language Learners).  It was a tough job, especially by myself, but a great experience.  While there I went back for my Masters in Instructional Leadership with a focus in Literacy, Language, and Culture.  I taught kindergarten for almost six years.  I left during myfifth year when I was offered a position as a graduate research assistant, which covered my graduate tuition.  I wanted to dedicate my time and energy to my Ph.D. program, which I started in 2006, and completed in 2011.  My Masters in Literacy, Language and Culture rolled into my PhD program; both were at UIC.

I have always worked in early literacy, and my expertise is in early literacy development.  Before coming to Columbia I was at Purdue Calumet in Hammond, Indiana for two years.  There I was an Assistant Professor of Literacy, and I taught Children’s Literature, Early Literacy Methods, and some Educational Technology.

What are your favorite classes to teach at the graduate level?  What has been your favorite class to teach at Columbia so far?

Methods for Language Arts would be my favorite; I am scheduled to teach this course in the spring semester.  I enjoy teaching Educational Psychology, but it is much more theory.  The theory is important, and Methods for Language Arts has theory as well, but I enjoy teaching content more.

What did you find most exciting about the Elementary Education Program here at Columbia?

The diversity of Columbia is exciting.  In my Ed Psych course there are musicians, dancers, artists, photographers, students who’ve held marketing and finance jobs… many career changers.  They give you such diverse perspectives on the world coming from different kinds of schooling themselves; it’s an interesting venue to get ideas about teaching and learning.  When you compare that to a little “hometown” school (Purdue was a small commuter campus), this is an exciting place to be.

Dr. Katie Paciga teaching Educational Psychology

Dr. Katie Paciga teaching Educational Psychology

What are your research interests?

Most recently I have been working on moving experimental, lab-based research about eBooks into the fabric of kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms. I wonder how to break that research down and make it useful for teachers and students and how the educational context and the people in them are impacted by these technologies, especially as related to language and literacy learning.  I have been going out to schools, watching, doing case study work, and telling some stories about the use of these technologies.

What do you think is one of the biggest issues facing public education today?   What is your opinion on that?

I think that society forgets that schools are part of the political enterprise so, often times, the policies that impact students can be based on not what is best for students.  For me, I think that that is the biggest issue.  You can’t completely depoliticize schools because of the way they’re primarily funded.  But, I think that somehow the relationship between politics and schools needs to be re-conceptualized, because we need schools, as a matter of social justice.

My biggest issue with policies these days is that the assessments that we’re using aren’t always accurate representations and don’t capture accurately what it is that we want them to.  The default is to do multiple-choice because a computer can score it for us.  I kind of feel like when we rely on things that can be easily counted as our measure, we aren’t going to capture multiple ways of knowing and measure all of what a student really knows.

What advice would you give to prospective students?

Come!!!! We want you here!  Chicago is a great place to learn, it is one of the biggest school districts nation wide (within the top ten largest school districts).  You have the potential to see all different schools here.  The faculty at Columbia is really passionate and know their content very well.  It is also a pretty well resourced program.  I feel like we have a lot here: access to iPads, art materials, classrooms full of stuff for us to use.  We’re also right across from Harold Washington Library, which has one of the best children’s literacy collections in the Midwest.

Meet Dr. Kathleen Loftus, new professor in the Education Department

Meet Dr. Kathleen Loftus, new professor in the Education Department

Kathleen Loftus, Ed.D.

What is your position in Columbia’s Education Department?

I am a full-time faculty member in the Education Department.  I teach for both the MAT program and also the Early Childhood program.  My background is primarily in Educational Psychology and Special Education, so I am currently teaching the Exceptional Child class for the undergraduate Early Childhood Education program and the Middle School Psychology course for the MAT graduate program.

There are three other courses, in a sequence of four, for the Special Ed sequence that I will probably be teaching in the next year or two.  I will continue to teach more courses in the Department as needed.

How long have you been at Columbia?

I’ve been here since mid-August, but I have been teaching graduate courses as an adjunct for two other area universities since early 2008.

What attracted you to work for Columbia?

I made the decision earlier this year, that if I could find a position in higher-education before this fall, I would depart the K-12 education system, where I had been for almost 20 years, and devote my full time to teaching at the higher-education level because I have grown to feel more at home in a college setting rather than in a K-12 setting.

When thinking about this school specifically, Columbia is not unfamiliar to me.  It has a very open-door policy, with a lot of non-traditional learners here.  We have very amazing strengths, that are not always recognized by the traditional school system.  I used to refer students with special abilities and artistic talents to come here; I knew they would find a home here for their talents at Columbia.

What did you do before working at Columbia?  What did your Elementary Education career look like?

I was a special education coordinator most recently, for the last few years.  I’ve also served as high school discipline dean.  Prior to entering the field of education I was a vocational rehabilitation counselor.  Some of my most interesting work, though, included working for Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) as a monitor for special education compliance of Chicago Public Schools.  That was really interesting.  I would go into different CPS schools and examine how they were delivering special education services to students with IEPs and make recommendations for improvements.

My BA in Communication and MA in counseling, alongside with my post-graduate work in Special Education and School Administration are from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.  I do have a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University, located in Fort Lauderdale.  There is an off-campus cohort here in Chicago.  My dissertation addressed how most school principals don’t know very much about special education, yet they’re supposed to be the educational leaders for all of the students in their buildings.  I’ve always had an interest in finding ways to bridge information gaps between groups of people.

I am really happy to be here, I love teaching the students and getting to know everyone.  Along with teaching courses at Columbia, I’ve also been asked to help bring all of our courses into compliance with new state regulations.  I enjoy that part of my job here, too.

Dr. Kathleen Loftus teaching Middle School Psych

Dr. Kathleen Loftus teaching Middle School Psych

What are your favorite classes to teach at the graduate level?  What has been your favorite class to teach at Columbia so far?

I love anything that helps students learn more about individuals with whom they are not familiar, ways of doing things that they haven’t thought about, and anything in the field of education, really.  Most students here are very bright and come with a lot of background knowledge, and it’s nice helping piece all of that together and helping them understand how those things fit into the larger school setting.  Helping students become teachers is very exciting.

What did you find most exciting about the Elementary Education Program here at Columbia?

I think Columbia has students from many diverse backgrounds, and with many different talents and skills that are all coming together to bring these abilities to the classroom.

Most of my experience teaching before coming here was not teaching undergraduate students, but teaching teachers getting their masters degrees while working as practicing teachers.  While that’s an interesting group as well, I see a lot more enthusiasm and curiosity, and eagerness to learn in the undergraduate and graduate students here at Columbia.

What are your research interests?

I’m very interested in school reform; I’ve always been interested in how schools can better reach all student.  I am the parent of four kids (now grown), and I was never completely satisfied with the way they were educated.  I always felt that there was something more that could be done, at one point or another, in their schooling.  Right now, one of the things I’m interested in is the difference in some of the teaching practices in some of the poorest performing school systems when compared to the rest.  I am always thinking outside of the box, looking at things from different angles, and looking at why some of the most obvious measures aren’t being taken to make things work better for more students.

Another thing that interests me is why it’s acceptable for teachers to fail students in high school, when this is typically not the case in elementary school.

I also wrote a book about school reform.  By the time I was done with my dissertation I had so much I still wanted to say that I ended up writing Set Up to Fail in 2006.  It contains a number of what I consider unresolved issues and concerns I had about school systems.

Dr. Kathleen Loftus teaching Middle School Psych

Dr. Kathleen Loftus teaching Middle School Psych

What do you think is one of the biggest issues facing public education today?  What is your opinion on that?

The biggest issue, to me, is the low graduation rate from high school.  Chicago Public Schools had 602 schools, now they’ve recently closed many, but the graduation rate is barely over 50%.  That is a lot of people when you think about that many schools that is, and how big the district is.  That’s a lot of students who are not being adequately prepared for life.  What happens to those kids?   Until recently, when measuring a high school’s achievement, it was based solely on the test scores of students who are juniors.  But, so many kids never make it to Junior year.  When monitoring CPS, I saw a lot of students who didn’t make it to Freshman year.  It just makes me very sad that more kids aren’t getting a complete education.  Not all kids can be on a college track, necessarily.  I think if we brought back more of the vocational options for students we’d have more kids being productive members of society.

What advice would you give to prospective students?

Embrace, enjoy. Everyday, look at the opportunity to go to class as a privilege, not something to be shunned or avoided.  These years don’t last forever.  Once you’re back out in the real world, you’re going to look back and ask yourself why you didn’t seek out your instructors and try to absorb as much as you possibly could from them in all cases.

Elementary Education Faculty Spotlights: Dr. Katie Paciga & Dr. Kathleen Loftus

It is fall, and not just the leaves are changing.  Change is happening in Columbia’s Education Department and it’s a very good thing!  Columbia College Chicago’s Education Department has two …

Elementary Education MAT Christine Reed, christine.reed1@gmail.com
600 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60605

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