LAKEVIEW — For Amy Vondra, the new principal at Hamilton Elementary — and one of four new leaders at neighborhood schools this year — her focus is not just on the now, but also on the later.
"I come from a high school background most recently, so we're making sure our students are prepared for high school," said Vondra, who most recently worked for four years as the assistant principal at Wells High School in West Town.
"Slowly but surely, I'm looking to find those opportunities and capitalize on them and make the changes that are needed, but they're not necessarily significant changes," said Vondra.
Vondra earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education and special education and her master's in business. She worked as a teacher and the head of an education-focused non-profit before earning her doctorate in education and urban school leadership at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"I was looking for the right opportunity to work in a neighborhood school that had community support and was an integral part of the community," Vondra said. "Hamilton caught my attention because of the school's story."
In 2009, CPS planned to "phase out" the elementary school, but under the leadership of then-principal James Gray and a dedicated group of parents and community members, enrollment increased, and Hamilton's offerings became more in line with parents' demand, effectively saving the school.
Vondra said she and her new vice principal Meghan Brewer plan on spending their first year at Hamilton learning about the school and making observations.
"I'm not interested in changing things that aren't broken," Vondra said. "I'm really taking the approach of learning what the community wants and responding to different needs of the community."
In other local changes:
• Like Vondra new Lake View High School principal Paul Karafiol says he's looking ahead, too.
"In short form, what I’d really like to do is see our college enrollment go up, and we’re putting some new processes in place to make sure we’re not letting anyone slip through the cracks,” said Karafoil.
“We’re in the process of developing our vision and setting some very concrete goals in a bunch of different areas for this year — everything from daily instruction to how we run clubs and activities in the building," he said.
Karafiol — who served as interim principal during the 2016-17 school year and last spring was offered the position permanently — is also looking at the schools that feed into his.
“Last year I sent my teachers on learning walks at several of our schools to get a sense of what these middle schoolers are doing a year or two before they come to us,” said Karafiol.
Karafiol said communication with principals of Lakeview schools is excellent, and they interact in both official events organized by CPS and in unofficial capacities. This allows them to create a goal-oriented vision that will serve all students who end up at Lake View High School, he said.
• Blaine Elementary School is also seeing a familiar face with a new title this year. Angela Brito, who last year stepped up with Gary Norcross to serve as joint interim principals after the departure of Troy LaRaviere, has officially taken on the principal position.
• Hawthorne Scholastic Academy is in a similar position. Marisol Negron, who for the past two years has served as resident principal and assistant principal, is this year working as the interim principal after the departure of Nate Pietrini.