GLADSTONE PARK — A Chicago Public Schools crisis management team will be at Hitch Elementary School this week to offer grief counseling and support for those struggling with the death of principal Deborah "Debby" Reese, officials said.
Reese, 63, who had been principal of the school for 10 years, died Friday of cancer.
A letter to parents posted on the school's website praised Reese, who took a medical leave of absence because of her illness several weeks ago, for her "never-ending effort to nurture [the] school and community."
"She was an inspiration in the education profession and we are thankful for her guiding spirit," said the letter signed by Acting Principal A.J. Stich and Assistant Principal Diane Kieres.
Local School Council Member John Garrido said even though he knew she was ill, he was shocked to hear of Reese's death. As recently as December, Reese reached out to the council about a conference, Garrido said.
"Her passion for her work at the school and to the children of Hitch was without question remarkable," Garrido said, adding that her loss is "devastating" for both the Gladstone Park community and Hitch.
The fact that Reese worked nearly until her death demonstrates how "fiercely devoted" she was to the school and its students, who she often called her "extended family," Garrido said.
Ald. John Arena (45th) said he was very sad Reese had died, praising her as an "amazing advocate" for Hitch.
Stich declined to comment about Reese's death or his position at the school without the approval of CPS spokeswoman Lauren Huffman, who did not respond Monday to a request for comment.
Garrido said he hoped Stich would finish out the school year and a permanent replacement for Reese would start in the fall.
Reese will be "tough to replace," Arena said.
Hitch is the second most overcrowded school in the city, with 586 students attending class in a building with an ideal capacity of 420, according to CPS data. The school has a utilization rate of 140 percent, and pleas for a modular classrooms to ease the space crunch have gone unheeded, according to parents, school leaders and elected officials.
Garrido praised Reese for speaking out about the overcrowding at Hitch.
"She knew it might ruffle some feathers, but stepped up to get the word out anyway," Garrido said. "She always wanted what was best for the school even if it would get her in a little hot water with administrators."
Arena said Reese had begun making headway with CPS officials on steps that would ease overcrowding at the school.
"She was tireless on that issue," Arena said. "We're going to continue this fight for her."
Reese's funeral and burial will be private, according to the letter from Hitch officials.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, Reese’s family requested that donations be made to Misericordia, a home for children and adults with mental or physical disabilities. Donations should include the Misericordia Family Reference Number MFA #1360 of Reese's son, Peter Parizanski, who lives at Misericordia.
Reese's older son, Jason Parizanski, is a Chicago police officer.
A memorial service will be held at Hitch in the coming weeks, the letter said.