When students file through the doors at St. Bernardine Catholic School this week, they will find freshly painted rooms and doors, a new parking lot and new planters.
And a new principal. Area native Veronica Skelton Cash, who attended and taught at St. Edmund School in Oak Park and graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School, will be tackling her first stint as a principal.
Students will have loads of chances to get to meet and know her. She'll spend the first days going to classrooms and introducing herself to the 100 youngsters who attend the school.
Though it's her first assignment as principal, Cash is is excited about being back in the area—and at St. Bernardine.
"Being in a familiar place I am running into people I know and telling them I'm at St. Bernadine," she said. "I ask them to keep me in their thoughts."
Cash is ready to hit the ground running, looking to infuse the kind of spirit and energy that is emblamatic of the school's unofficial mascot—the Lightning.
"I want St. Bernardine to stay here; it will stay here. We have a great group of dedicated people," she said. "I made a conscious choice to be here. I'm glad I did."
Cash looks at challenges more as opportunities. More than likely there will be a handful.
The enrollment is small—a little more than 100 students; the faculty is tiny, as well—about 15. Cash wants to increase enrollment, while finding new ways of raising money and improving test scores, particularly in reading and math. She'll also be getting to know the parents and making sure they have her ear.
"I am a parent, I understand and can put myself in their position," she said. "I have to figure out where they're coming from."
It took a bit of time for Cash to find her path to teaching and then administration. A graduate of Eastern Illinois University in the mid-1980s, Cash wanted to teach art. Admittedly she lost her focus.
"(Art teaching) might not be the best bet for me," she said. She was concerned about the economy and had doubts about getting a teaching position.
"Art's usually the first thing that gets cut," she said. So she decided to go instead into graphic arts.
Teaching was in the back of her mind, and 10 years later, teaching re-entered her thoughts. Although she admitted to being a little nervous about re-entering a classroom after 10 years, she got a master's in education at Concordia University; she went on to teach third grade at St. Edmund. She also taught at Betsy Ross Elementary School, according to the Forest Park Review.
While at St. Edmund she decided to go into administration. ("l always felt the need to improve myself," she said. "I found it a new opportunity.") She earned a master's in educational leadership from Loyola University Chicago.
Her first job in administration was as an assistant principal at St. John Brebeuf in Niles, where she wore a number of different hats: disciplinarian, a role she shared with the principal; lunchroom supervisor; head of technology; and liaison with the parent-teacher association.
Cash will bring some ideas from St. John and others she learned in different milieu to St. Bernadine. She's set up block scheduling for sixth- through eighth-grade reading and math, where for one hour in each students can delve deeper into these subjects.
In multi-age classrooms, junior high school students also can tackle more challenging subjects such as pre-algebra depending on their on maturity, performance and if they can handle the work.
Fourth- and fifth-graders will start preparing for the transition to junior high school by not having the same teacher for all of their classes.
The entire school also will engage in what is called differentiated instruction. Teachers will use different strategies to meet the academic needs of students. Youngsters will work on a particular subject in small groups, which will be formed based on the ways they learn, as well as their interests and abilities.
Cash admitted that she may be a little nervous at the start of the year. Not because she's concerned about being there but that she forgot to do something.
"I've got mental lists and am priortizing what I need to do each day," she said. "I am looking forward to it. It will be a rewarding experience."
The school will open the year with an ice cream social from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Sept. 7, at St. Bernardine, 815 Elgin Ave. For more information, contact the school at 708-366-6890.