D161 board welcomes new Heather Hills principal

  The District 161 board recognizes students who S
  showed their art work at the recent South Suburban
  Junior High School Art Association Fine Arts Festival.

Heather Hills School in Flossmoor will have a new principal July 1. At its meeting Monday, May 14, the District 161 board approved the hiring of Ashley Holland.
  Ashley Holland, who will 
  start July 1 as the next 
  principal of Heather Hills 
  School in Flossmoor, 
  thanks the board of
  education for the
(Photos by 
  Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
Holland currently is the instructional technology coordinator at Ridgeland School in District 122 in Oak Lawn. Prior to that position, she served as assistant principal in Evergreen Park, where she also taught for 10 years. 

She received her bachelor's degree from Governors State University and her master's degree from Concordia University. 

Holland thanked Superintendent Dana Smith and all the teachers and parents who were part of the hiring process.

"I am so looking forward to joining the Flossmoor family," she said. 

Smith said the district went through the hiring process a second time after the first try did not yield a successful candidate. He noted that staff, administrators and parents participated in the search for a new principal.

He said the district got "incredible feedback about what their children need, about what the Heather Hill neighborhood needs."

He said the final round of interviews included candidate presentations, simulated coaching sessions and meetings with students to talk about their goals.

Holland will replace Keith Davis, who resigned the post.

In other business, the board took another step toward the development of a STEAM lab (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) at Serena Hills School. The project is being largely underwritten by the school's benefactor and alumnus, Allan DiCastro.

DiCastro made a $25,000 donation to the school in 2016, then last year he pledged to contribute $200,000 to develop a STEAM facility.

On Monday, the board approved the purchase of curriculum and lab materials for $98,833 from Creative Learning Systems, the same company hired to develop a similar SmartLab at James Hart School in Homewood.

Smith said district staff had visited the James Hart facility and were impressed with the level of student engagement they observed.

The SmartLab will serve all students in the district from kindergarten through fifth grade. The curriculum will cover circuitry, computer graphics, digital communications, mechanics and structures, robotics and control technology, scientific data analysis, software engineering and sustainability.

At its April 9 meeting, the board approved bids totalling $79,566 to furnish the lab. Orders for furnishings, equipment and the curriculum will not be placed until funds from DiCastro have been received.

In other business, the board discussed a plan to revamp safety and security staffing, particularly at Parker Junior High School. 

Smith presented an updated version of a plan that would eliminate the positions of security guard and safety aide but would increase the number of adults on staff in a supervisory capacity. The plan would replace the term "security guard" and "safety aide" with "school support aide." Two current safety aides would become administrative assistants.

Currently, Parker has three security guards on duty on any given day, Smith said. The plan is to replace them with five school support aides who would be trained in Capturing Kids’ Hearts, a program designed to improve the relationship between teachers and students, and in verbal de­-escalation strategies. School support aides would focus on student supervision and support.

Smith said hiring off-duty law enforcement officers is relatively expensive, and while he was quick to note that "there's no price on safety," he expressed doubt that the role of security guard is necessarily the most appropriate way to provide safety in a junior high school setting. He said guards are not charged with intervening in student behavioral problems.

The need for the kind of security they provide might be limited. He noted that a pull-down alarm system installed several years ago to notify police in case of an emergency, has never been used in an actual emergency.

Board member Stephen Paredes said the best way to improve school safety is for adults in supervisory roles to develop relationships with students in order to be in a position to prevent conflicts from escalating. He also advocated for creating opportunities for students to assume leadership roles and take ownership in the school environment.

"There's no price on safety, but you don't want to create a prison for yourself and your students to live in," he said.

Smith said the issue was not urgent and suggested the board could take time to consider the staff changes carefully. The item was on the agenda for discussion only. No action was taken.

Related stories:
  Parker Junior High students who participated in a 
  recent history fair pose with member of the District 
  161 board of education and Superintendent Dana
  Smith, right.



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