On Feb. 26, the District 208 Board of Education voted unanimously to accept Superintendent Kevin Skinkis’ recommendation to hire Hector Freytas as Riverside-Brookfield High School’s new principal.
The 34-year-old Cicero resident will become the school’s first Hispanic principal in a district whose Hispanic population has grown to more one-third of total enrollment.
Freytas will replace Kristin Smetana as principal on July 1. Smetana will move to a new role as assistant superintendent.
With a big, outgoing personality, Freytas will bring a different vibe to the position than the friendly, but more reserved Smetana.
“His personality and his high energy level were definitely positives that the interview process highlighted,” Skinkis told the Landmark.
In a press release announcing the hire Skinkis also emphasized Freytas’ personality.
“Hector demonstrated a high energy level each round of the interview process,” Skinkis said. “He was very well prepared and did his homework on RB. He is very passionate about education and working with the students, staff, and parents. I think he will be a great instructional leader for RB. His personality and energy level will generate more school spirit and student engagement.”
Freytas demonstrated his outgoing and expressive personality in an interview after the board the voted to hire him.
“The only way to live, to me, is to live happily,” Freytas said. “You can be sad when you’re six feet under.”
Freytas said that at RBHS he would focus on building relationships. He was attracted to RBHS by the strong academics and solid community already in place. He described himself, in what is now a common phrase in leadership circles, as a servant-leader.
“I want to be with a group of people that want to be the best academically, be the best culturally, climate and culture, be the best athletically, and I think and I believe that all the pieces all the pieces are here,” Freytas said. “Also, I’m only 15 minutes away and what’s also special is that one of my favorite places in the world, Brookfield Zoo, is right next door. So, it’s close to home, serious stakeholders, quality programming, great students, and I’m done with that commute to the north side of the city.”
Freytas, whose first language was Spanish, is currently in his second year as the principal of ASPIRA Business and Finance High School, a charter school with an enrollment of nearly 500 students located on the Northwest Side of Chicago.
ASPIRA is a very different school than RBHS. Ninety-seven percent of ASPIRA students are low income and 94 percent are Hispanic. English is not the first language for 34 percent of ASPIRA students. Only 6 percent of ASPIRA students met state standards in English and only 5 percent did so in math, according to the latest Illinois School Report Card.
Freytas began his career as Spanish teacher at Morton East High School, the school he graduated from and the school where Skinkis began his career. Skinkis said that he believes he coached Freytas in football for one year at Morton.
After teaching Spanish for eight years at Morton, Freytas served as the dean of the freshman campus at Morton East and then moved to Westmont High School, where he served for two years as an assistant principal under former RBHS Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann. Skinkis said that he talked to Baldermann about Freytas when checking references.
Freytas said that he learned the importance of being visible from Baldermann.
“Building relationships, being visible, high fives, fist bumps,” Freytas said. “That’s who I am and that’s’ some of the things I learned from Jack Baldermann.
Baldermann, meanwhile, said Freytas had an “authentic and passionate commitment to his students” who helped Westmont build “one of the best AP programs in the country.”
“He really loves students,” Baldermann said. “It’s genuine; he wants the best for them.”
Freytas pledged to be very visible at RBHS and said that he would go to as many competitions and student activities as possible.
“My focus is going to be building relationships,” Freytas said. “Be at the games, have lunch, have pizza, be at the plays, be at the swimming meets.”
Freytas was born in Chicago and spent part of his childhood in Puerto Rico before returning to the Chicago area at around the age of 8 or 9 and growing up in Cicero.
He is a graduate of the University of Illinois, earned a master’s degree in teaching Spanish from the University of Grenada in Spain, earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Concordia University, and obtained a doctorate in education from National Louis University.
Freytas was chosen from a field of 40 applicants and went through three rounds of interviews. He was interviewed by committees made up of teachers, administrators and students.
Board member Gina Sierra, who is an elementary school principal, was on an interviewing committee. The other board members met Freytas for the first time in closed session on Feb. 26 before hiring him.
“He seems like a great fit for RB,” said board President Garry Gryczan.
Hispanic enrollment has been growing at RBHS over the past two decades. In 2000, the Hispanic enrollment at RBHS stood at about 11 percent. Last year, Hispanic students comprised 36.3 percent of total enrollment.
Skinkis said that Freytas’ ability to speak Spanish was a nice bonus but not a deciding factor.
“He’s bilingual,” Skinkis said. “[It] brings an extra attribute to the high school and our changing demographics. But he was by far the best candidate for the position. It was not a deciding factor.”
Freytas received a two-year contract and will be paid $135,000 next year.