District protocol must be followed as the Ray Local School Council begins searching for a new principal, but Assistant Principal Gayle Neely made it clear she wants the job at a June 17 LSC meeting where plenty of attendees endorsed her.

LSC head Silvia Ellis said the council learned last week that Principal Megan Thole was resigning next month and that Neely wanted the job. The Wednesday meeting agenda originally included time for Neely to make her case, but Chicago Public Schools LSC office advised the council to avoid official discussions of particular candidates before the de jure hiring process begins. So Ellis expressed her interest during public comment.

"I want you to know how much I love Ray," she said. "I think that we need to choose the very best candidate for this decision: a person that is qualified, certified and ready to serve either as interim or contract principal. We are a very unique school, and we need to find someone who is going to embrace our uniqueness. Being an administrator is not an easy job, but we need to find someone who's passionate to carry the torch on the good work that Principal Thole has instilled, and someone who is ready to start immediately."

In addition to hiring Thole's replacement this summer, Ray needs to hire another assistant principal and finalize contingency plans for the beginning of the new academic year in the fall. "We do not want our staff members nor students to walk into that building to strangers, a new principal and a new assistant principal," Neely said. 

As a longtime educator — a Chicago State University graduate with a master's degree from Concordia University of Chicago and 25 years of experience in CPS, per her LinkedIn — Neely said she meets the qualifications for the job and that she wants it.

Teachers and parents touted Neely for the job, from her promotion of racial and international diversity at Ray to her support for school staff to her interactions with and dedication to students. 

Neely "puts in 200%, if not more, in every endeavor here at Ray," said pre-kindergarten teacher Bethanie Smith. "Whether it's after-school events, making connections with teachers as well as professionalism, as far as making kids feel a part of the community, she's helped cultivate that continuing culture at Ray. I can't imagine what Ray would look like next year without our leader, especially during this time."

To begin the principal hiring process, the LSC must pass an advertisement announcing the vacancy; after two weeks, the LSC will get the list of candidates, likely in early July. The decision will be made by consensus.

The Ray LSC is serving beyond its originally prescribed term, as are all others district-wide, because LSC elections scheduled this week were indefinitely postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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