HYDE PARK — Most of the members of the Ray Elementary School Local School Council are on their way out, but they'll have one more big decision to make before leaving office: Picking a new principal.
All six incumbent parent representatives fell to their opponents in Monday's local school council election at Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave. Community representative Don Willard and teacher representative Gabriel Sheridan, both of whom were unchallenged, were the only two on the council to win re-election.
“I’m disappointed, but I had a good run,” said current council Chairman Gordon Mayer, who was seeking his third term.
Mayer said he thought parents and community members voted to clean house on the council to send a message to Chicago Public Schools.
“I think part of the answer is people are upset with CPS — and I’m one of them,” Mayer said. “Citywide, I think people are freaking out about CPS.”
He said he thinks Hyde Parkers were looking for representatives that would push back against an increased focus on high-stakes testing and less autonomy at individual schools.
“The kids are doing the equivalent of seven hours of clerical work every day,” said Terri Smith-Roback, who has a daughter in kindergarten at Ray.
She said she voted for many of the newcomers, but had hoped for more continuity between the current and incoming council.
Newly elected parent representatives Kara Scott, Silvia Arbelaez-Ellis, Sarah Ogeto, Denise Hill, Cynthia Horth and Paula Florell will take office on July 1.
Before the new members take control of the council, the outgoing members will elect a new principal.
At Tuesday night’s council meeting, the current members said they would start soliciting applications on Wednesday and would have a new principal selected by May 20.
Some parents saw the election rout as an admonishment to the current members for hiring Tatia Beckwith as principal in 2010.
“They just see them as the old guard who screwed up and they want new blood,” said Sasha Austin Schmidt, whose husband, Bill Schmidt, chose not to pursue another term on the council.
Beckwith frequently clashed with parents and developed a reputation for her temper.
“There are no guarantees in this process and we thought we were hiring someone terrific,” teacher representative Sheridan said of Beckwith.
CPS suddenly removed Beckwith from her position in April 2013 with no notice or explanation to teachers or parents.
CPS officials never explained why Beckwith and her assistant principal, Jeffrey Alstadt, were removed from their jobs. An official for CPS said a resolution had been reached with Beckwith and she would leave the school system in June.
Beckwith appears to already have moved on and is advertising her services as a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker in suburban La Grange. She received her real estate license on March 19, according to state records.
Alstadt remains employed by CPS, according to officials.
Antonia Hill, the former principal of Pershing East Elementary School in Bronzeville, was brought in to replace Beckwith on an interim basis until the council selected a replacement. Many at the school think Hill will pursue the job, and Hill said she is considering applying.
She declined to comment on whether Monday night’s vote was related to her own brief tenure at the school.
Ray fell to within a hairs breath of CPS' lowest ranking this year. CPS is reworking its ranking system, and Ray would fall into the second-to-lowest category and considered in need of major improvement if reassessed today, according to a newsletter Hill sent to parents this month.
The successful candidates in the election were never overtly critical of Hill, but did say the current leadership was not contributing to a positive and supportive environment at the school.
“There was concern and we wanted Ray to have a child-driven approach to education and not a test-driven approach and be a purely academic institution,” Scott said.
The incoming council members will have little say in the final decision over hiring a new principal. Though five members of the 12-member principal screening committee are from the newly elected council, the current members will make the final decision.
The screening committee itself is being limited in size because council members thought the 26-member committee in 2010 was inefficiently large. Many parents said they were discouraged from applying to be on the committee.
“Whether you’re on the committee or not, people will want to know what you think,” Mayer said.
A survey will be sent out to parents starting Wednesday to solicit feedback about what they want in a new principal.
All meetings of the principal screening committee and the local school council during the selection process will be open to the public.