Principal screening team rejects interim principal Antonia Hill

Left to right: Eric Fay, of Jones College Prep; Lisa Dallacqua, of Inter-American Magnet School, and Beth Bazer, of Hawthorne Scholastic Academy, all finalists for the position of principal at Ray Elementary School, during Tuesday night’s forum. -Marc Monaghan
Left to right: Eric Fay, of Jones College Prep; Lisa Dallacqua, of Inter-American Magnet School, and Beth Bazer, of Hawthorne Scholastic Academy, all finalists for the position of principal at Ray Elementary School, during Tuesday night’s forum.

-Marc Monaghan

Staff Writer

The Ray Elementary School local school council (LSC) principal screening committee hosted a Town Hall Meeting Tuesday night so that parents and community members could hear from the three final candidates for the principal position. The absence of the school’s interim principal as a finalist and the lack of diversity among the panel of candidates were both concerns for Ray parents.

The LSC principal screening committee selected Beth Bazer, assistant principal (AP) at Hawthorne Elementary School; Lisa Dallacqua, AP at InterAmerican Elementary School, and Eric Ray, acting AP at Jones High School, as final candidates for principal at Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave.

Before becoming the AP at Hawthorne, Bazer completed her principal residency at Lafayette Elementary School. She also taught on the primary and middle school level. Bazer received her Bachelor of Science in speech and hearing sciences at Indiana University, her Master of Arts in elementary education at Northwestern University and her doctorate in urban school leadership at University of Illinois Chicago.

Prior to her administrative role at InterAmerican, Dallacqua was the assistant principal at Stowe Elementary School, Spanish teacher at Marshall High School and an English teaching advisor in Zanzibar, Tanzania during her service in the Peace Corps. Dallacqua received her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Language and Literature and political science at Kalamazoo College, a Master of Arts in teaching from National Louis University, a Master of Arts type 75 certification from the American College of Education and a doctorate in curriculum and instructional design from University of Illinois at Chicago.

Before becoming an administrator at Jones, Fay was the assistant principal at Audubon and Ravenswood elementary schools. Prior to that he was a science teacher at Andrew Jackson Elementary and several schools in the suburbs. He also coached football, baseball and wrestling at the middle school and high school level. Fay earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at Wartburg College in Iowa, and his Master of Education degree in Educational Administration at Northern Illinois University. He is currently pursuing his Doctorate of Education in Urban Educational Leadership at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

During the town hall forum, the candidates answered questions that were submitted to the LSC from a parent survey as well as questions written on note cards from those in attendance. The questions addressed topics such as the importance of a good relationship between administrators and parents, the school’s drop from a level one high ranking school to a level two school — in danger of becoming a level three probationary school — and preserving Ray’s tradition of being a diverse school that offers classroom play time for lower grades and recess for all students.

“I don’t have a specific vision for changes at Ray,” said Bazer. “My vision for Ray is finding out everyone’s vision and incorporating that into the curriculum.”

Bazer, who said during her time at Hawthorne she took the school from level 3 to level 1 status, said that the inclusion of all stakeholders in school decisions is important to her.

“[Hawthorn] had an open door process that had to change it for security reasons and we knew the change was going to feel dramatic,” Bazer said. “Through surveys, coffee talks and LSC meetings we made the change very clear and worked with community to create a tailored plan everyone was on board with.”

She said Hawthorne also had a parent volunteer assigned to each classroom and she assisted the school in creating the first Webinar program for Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The webinar allows parents who miss school meetings to stay informed on what’s happening at the school.

Dallacqua said if she’s chosen as Ray’s principal parent volunteer opportunities would be made transparent.

“I am thinking of creating a Wiki space that would show parents upcoming projects and events where volunteers would be needed,”Dallacqua said.

Dallacqua, who has lived in Hyde Park for eight years, said she would also incorporate an English Language Learners parent group.

She also stated her belief in the importance of learning through play. Dallacqua is a proponent of the Playworks program, which shows teachers how to add game time to the school day through quick game activities between assignments.

“Conflict in games teaches children how to problem solve,” Dallacqua said.

She said she would also implement exercise activities such as Yoga and Zumba to the school so that all family members can get active.

She said she would work to make the school’s new 7th and 8th grades academically competitive so that students “want to stay at Ray, not move to an academic center.”

Fey, who lived in Hyde Park for three years when his wife was a student at University of Chicago, said he’s been anticipating an opportunity to lead the school.

“I was attracted to Ray’s diversity and the enthusiasm parents had for the kids.” Fey said. “Since then I always kept and eye on Ray school and I am glad I have the chance to interview here.”

He said his most fond memory during his administrative career so far was when he helped Audubon “eradicate its achievement gaps and increase its [test] scores by 20 percent.”

Because of this achievement the school was awarded the 2011 National Blue Ribbon for dramatic school improvement. Fey said he would work on achieving the same results at Ray and focus on helping the school “reverse the frustrating years.”

Fey said the school needs to be the cornerstone of the community and at Audubon he started a parent communications committee. At Ravenswood he helped build the school’s website, create a Twitter account and an online backpack mail system to help keep parents informed about school happenings.

If selected Fey would be the first male principal at Ray since the late 1970s.

During the question and answer segment for the LSC, parents expressed their dismay about the lack of diversity on the panel as well as the absence of Hill.

In April 2013 Hill was appointed as the interim principal at Ray due to the abrupt removal of its principal Tatia Beckwith. Hill was the principal of Pershing East Elementary School, 3113 S. Rhodes Ave., at the time of the transition.

In July of 2013, Hill gave up her position at Pershing East and the Ray LSC sent a vote of confidence letter to its CPS network chief stating that Hill was doing a good job in her appointed position.

In March Beckwith’s contract was officially terminated and Hill applied to officially become the school’s principal but by law the LSC must review all qualified candidates before making a final decision. According to LSC chairman Gordon Mayer, Hill made it to the final nine but wasn’t chosen as one of the top three candidates.

“We focused heavily and relied on the rubric,” said principal screening committee co-chair, Patrick Brutus about the set of standards the 18-member committee chose to vote by when evaluating the candidates. We are in a democracy and the numbers fell where they fell.”

Ray parent Dorcas Payne said since Hill had already successfully led the school for a year, she should have been given better consideration.

“[Hill] should have been an automatic finalist,” Payne said. “Her background and the work she’s done to help the school speaks for itself.”

Many of the parents’ questions, which were submitted by note cards, asked the LSC why the finalist panel lacked diversity.

Terri Roback, member of the principal screening committee, said the committee was not allowed to consider race based on the Equal Employment Opportunity Act.

“Going into the process we didn’t know anyone’s race aside from Dr. Hill,” Roback said.

Another question from the parents asked if the LSC was going to have a celebration of some kind to thank Hill for her work as interim principal.

“We don’t have anything planned yet but we will do something that honors her good work,” Mayer said.

The next steps for the principal screening committee includes reference checks and site visits with each finalist. The LSC will then make a final vote.

The LSC has until the end of June to choose a new principal or the school’s network will assign a principal.