By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Burnham Elementary School Network Chief John Price introduced Ray Elementary School to its new interim principal Antonia “Toni” Hill Thursday evening at the school’s monthly local school council (LSC) meeting.
Hill worked as a scientist at Abbott Labs before starting her second career as an educator and then an administrator at Chicago Public Schools. Before coming to Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., Hill was the principal at Pershing East Elementary School for eight years. She completed her New Leaders for New Schools principal residency at Spry Community School; she was the Area Instructional technology coordinator for CPS and a career specialist for Jobs for Illinois graduates at Julian High School.
Price said he appointed Hill to be more than just a placeholder.
“Toni has a bright presence about her,” Price said. “Her positive attitude is infectious, and I think the community is ready for a leader like her … to help Ray thrive.”
Price also appointed Toni Campbell, the instructional support leader at the Burnham School District office, as the interim assistant principal.
Last Monday afternoon, Price held a meeting at Ray where he announced to parents and community members that Ray principal Tatia Beckwith and assistant principal Jeffrey Alstadt had been temporarily reassigned until further notice. Although Price would not explain why the two were removed, he said Beckwith and Alstadt did not resign, get fired or accept a new job, so technically the position of principal of Ray is not vacant.
When Price announced Beckwith’s reassignment Ray parents applauded but having been told at the beginning of Price’s announcements that no details on why they were removed would be shared, frustrated parents began to speculate about the actual cause of Beckwith’s abrupt dismissal.
Parents began to seek comment from Price on whether the dismissal was due to complaints about Beckwith’s stringent enforcement of CPS policies that alienated parent volunteers or if it had anything to do with funding misappropriations connected to getting the Ray University, a 45-minute extracurricular program, up and running. One parent, who requested to remain anonymous to protect his son, said he believed it might have something to do with an investigation about the mistreatment of his son.
Price said Beckwith and Alstadt were not removed from the school because of the allegations and he refused to comment on any questions about why the two had been dismissed.
Former Ray principal Cydney Fields temporarily returned from retirement to lead the school for two weeks and Hill will now serve interim until there is an official vacancy. Once there is a vacancy, the LSC can begin its search for a full time principal.
“The kids asked who I was,” said Fields, Thursday evening, about her first week at the school. “I told them I was just helping because I didn’t want to confuse them. I’m excited, I’ve known [Hill] for awhile and [the Ray community is] really lucky.”
Hill said she is familiar with Rays tradition of having several generations of families attend the school and its legacy is special and she wants to be a leader that helps that Ray community get where it wants to be.
“We have an ending, which means a new beginning,” Hill said. “My vision [for Ray] is predicated upon the vision of the parents, teachers and community. I know Ray has a community rich in history, I want to respect that.”
At Thursday’s meeting the tone of Ray parents changed from one of frustration to one of hope.
After being reminded by Price that this was not an interview but a meet and greet, parents were asked to share advice and opinions that might help Hill during her time at Ray.
Parent inclusion, special education, English as a second language learners and returning Ray to a level one school were some of the requests from the parents who stood up to thank Price for the change in leadership and welcome Hill to the school.
Hill is having another meeting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, April 16, in the school’s lunchroom to speak with parents and community members about their memories and future hopes for the school. There will also be an evening meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 25, during the parent teachers association meeting.