At the celebration of the newly renovated Hillcrest High School, senior Cileena Williams said she won’t miss the times she had to join scores of other students for the outdoor trudge from the school’s main campus to its annex. When it rained or snowed, it wrecked her canvas shoes.
Yes, Williams is already longing for the two additional minutes allotted to students between classes during the yearslong, $25-million renovation project that has transformed Hillcrest. But at Thursday night’s ribbon-cutting to celebrate the completion of the project, she joined in the chorus of teachers, students and northsiders praising the new school
“I’m hoping that this will kind of change everyone’s perspective on us,” Williams said. “And I’m hoping they’ll realize that even before when our school wasn’t looking the best, we were still a good school. We have great art. We have these great people. And I hope they realize how genuinely amazing Hillcrest is. I’ve never once been a person that says like, ‘I wish I went to Glendale.’”
She was handing out brochures by a new set of science classrooms and the home of the Hillcrest Education Center. Williams, president of the school’s Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program, spends a lot of her time on that corner of the sprawling campus, which her principal encouraged hundreds gathered Thursday night to explore.
First, Rob Kroll said, they’d have to temporarily brush the collective chip off their shoulder.
‘You feel valued by what is invested in you,’ Hillcrest principal says
Kroll choked up several times while thanking teachers, staff and students for their efforts and resolve in navigating a major construction process that took over three years to complete. Only one of two phases of the Hillcrest renovation was slated for funding with money from the $168 million Proposition S bond passed in 2019. But when several other major projects finished under budget, Hillcrest got the go-ahead to knock out the second phase.
The final wing, comprised of 29 new classrooms and three performing arts spaces, opened a week prior for students and staff to get a first look.
“It was awesome,” Kroll said after helping students cut the ribbon. “Students walking down the hall, just heads bobbling around. Just in disbelief.
“You feel valued by what is invested in you. And so to have that is what’s essential. To feel value and to have that investment made in you. It means everything.”
On Thursday night, the public got to do the same, and many Hillcrest teachers were there to open their new classroom doors for visitors. Framed collages of photos taken during student trips he’s led all over the world were still on the floor of Jeremey George’s new classroom, leaned up against white walls. His Tom Brady posters, plural, were among the decorations he’s put on the walls so far since moving in.
The new space, George said, was astounding. Before he moved to his new classroom, he was teaching in the Hillcrest annex — the old three-classroom Fairview Elementary building that next year will become the district’s Academy of Exploration. For high school students, George said, it was a tight fit — especially in his AP U.S. History class, which has always had a higher enrollment.
“We were crammed in,” he said. “We would have five to seven desks outside in the hall, and we would bring them in for those couple big classes and then move them back out.”
The windows, the elbow room, the generous ceiling height in his new classroom — it adds up to a transformational difference for him and his students, said George, who has spent his 27-year career teaching at Hillcrest.
“These steps forward, progress forward … is crucial for the community, because the school is the heart of Springfield, but (also) all the little communities around that represent Springfield,” he said. “The school is the heart and we have to invest there. We have to. That’s just part of our promise to the next generations.”
‘Nothing more northside than Hillcrest High School’
During his remarks before the ribbon-cutting, Kroll described Hillcrest, 3319 N. Grant Ave., as the heart of the northside community, the common ground of the 65803.
“There is nothing more northside than Hillcrest High School,” Kroll said, and waited for the applause to die down. “Hong Kong Inn is a close second.”
The school space, he said, now matches the “great pride” of the community and students it serves.
“Students, I see you guys,” he said. “You’ve done it. You’ve done it. you’ve endured classes behind the bleachers, sideways rain, porta potties and a variety of other obstacles. Your reward: You’ve got the boujee high school.”