Ray local school council finally free to pick principal after delay

Ray Elementary Interim Principal Toni Hill, pictured here greeting parents last year, is among the candidates for principal now that the local school council has permission to fill the slot.

Ray Elementary Interim Principal Toni Hill, pictured here greeting parents last year, is among the candidates for principal now that the local school council has permission to fill the slot.

By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Staff Writer

The Ray Elementary School local school council chose members for its principal selection committee at its April meeting. The school has been led by an interim principal for about a year after its previous principal was abruptly removed from her post.

At the meeting the LSC at Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., chose a 12-member principal search committee to create a job description, review applications and interview candidates. The LSC expects to have a new principal in place by May 20.

In 2011 former Ray Principal Bernadette Butler retired. In May of that year what was expected to be Ray’s principal forum for the community turned into a meet-the-principal forum because Tatia Beckwith was the only candidate still in the running for the position. In April 2013 Beckwith was removed from her position as principal.

Then-Area Network Chief John Price would not disclose why Beckwith was removed from the position but it was recently revealed by a concerned Ray parent that Beckwith used school money to fund a program without LSC approval. Since the school could not cover the expense it is in debt to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and had to make some tough curriculum decisions in order to pay back the money.

On March 19 CPS told the Ray LSC that Beckwith’s contract was officially terminated and the school has 90 days to hire a new principal. Beckwith is now a Caldwell Real Estate Broker in La Grange, Ill.

Not wanting to suffer the consequences of another leader’s mistakes, parents and community members asked questions about the previous process in hopes that the newly formed committee wouldn’t repeat the mistakes.

Past selection committees had 25 to 30 people on the team, which those at the LSC meeting concluded was too large.

“Frankly I thought we had a lot of bad applicants,” said Kirsten Easterly, LSC parent representative, who added that the selection process didn’t happen quickly enough so two of the three final candidates dropped out.

Gabriel Sheridan, LSC teacher representative, said she thought they had good candidates.

Tim May, LSC parent representative, said “Some people just interview well.”

Ray parent Michael Scott suggested that the process could move faster if each committee member was not required to be at every meeting and just rated the candidates they’ve interviewed.

Another parent suggested that the LSC not focus on finding a principal fast but on finding the right principal for the school.

In the running is the school’s current interim principal Antonia “Toni” Hill. She was appointed to the school three days after Beckwith was removed. In July 2013 she made her move official by resigning from her position at Pershing East Elementary School, 3113 S. Rhodes Ave. At its June meeting the Ray LSC voted to send a vote of confidence letter to Price stating that Hill was doing a good job in her appointed position. The current LSC has expressed interest in keeping Hill on as principal but the governing body is required to post a job announcement and accept applications.

d.phillips@hpherald.com