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New Ray Principal Tries to Allay Parents' Concerns After Old Leaders Ousted

By Sam Cholke | April 16, 2013 3:37pm
 Ray Elementary interim Principal Toni Hill meets with parents on Tuesday to hear their concerns before making changes at the Hyde Park school.
Ray Elementary interim Principal Toni Hill meets with parents on Tuesday to hear their concerns before making changes at the Hyde Park school.
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DNAInfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — Ray Elementary School’s new interim principal met with parents Tuesday, her second day on the job, to allay their concerns after her predecessor was ousted from the job earlier this month.

Toni Hill, the former principal at Pershing East Elementary School, started at Ray Monday as its interim leader after former Principal Tatia Beckwith and Assistant Principal Jeffrey Alstadt were removed from their positions suddenly on April 5.

Hill said she has not been told why Beckwith and Alstadt were removed. Chicago Public Schools officials have refused to say why they were removed.

Hill opened the floor at the 5631 S. Kimbark Ave. school to address concerns, including Anika Oden’s desire for more frequent updates on how her fourth-grade daughter was doing in classes.

Hill agreed.

“I feel as a parent, you have a right to ask the teacher how your child is doing. Great? Well, what does great mean?” Hill said, as Oden nodded. “When I talk to you, I’m operating as a principal and parent — but principal first — and as a parent, I’d want to be updated, too.”

Despite the removal of its top two officials, Hill said she thinks the school is doing okay, but could stand improvement. She said she is hesitant to make too many changes so late in the school year.

She said she has started identifying areas that need improvement. She spent two hours on Monday going over staff scheduling.

“Scheduling is a big problem and I know that,” Hill said. “These things we’re looking into and trying to correct, but I don’t want to shift everyone’s schedule at the end of the year.”

Many parents nodded in agreement as Hill spoke, but were anxious for the new principal to make it easier for them to volunteer at the school.

“You’re hearing a lot of anxiety from parents, but Ray has had a great school community in the past and I think we can have this again,” said Julie Vassilatos, whose daughter is in fourth grade.

She said that she thought the former principal’s policy restricting parents’ access into the building was misguided and hoped it would change.

“The children were safe from their parents, but on the playground they were roaming like goats in the hills,” Vassilatos said.

Hill said she needs more parents inside the school and involved in it, especially as Chicago Public Schools considers adding seventh and eighth grades to the building next year.

“Children in middle school should have a middle school experience,” Hill said, adding that she is thinking about how much to separate seventh- and eighth-graders from the lower grade students. “There will be some kind of interaction and that’s where we want parent input.”

Hill said she wants to build up the Ray community, which she said is more than just the students, teachers and parents.

“Ray is a community of families,” she said.