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Hillside School names first new director in 40 years — Cyndi Hatcher feels prepared

Principal Cyndi Hatcher, pictured at the Hillside School and Learning Center in La Cañada Flintridge on Friday, will become the school's next executive director in June, replacing retiring 40-year veteran Bob Frank.
(Tim Berger/La Cañada Valley Sun)

La Cañada’s Hillside School and Learning Center will soon say goodbye to a local legend, as Executive Director Bob Frank retires in June after 40 years of service.

The school’s search for a successor, however, has already concluded — its board of directors announced last week Associate Director and Principal Cyndi Hatcher will become the new director as of June 6.

Frank called the selection “a wise move,” given Hatcher’s 19-year tenure at Hillside School and her passion for working with families and students.

“Cyndi’s been here, and she knows the community; she’s got some great ideas and will push this thing to the next level,” Frank said. “But she’s also compassionate, she’s gracious and she gets it.”

Hillside School and Learning Center Executive Director Bob Frank, Principal Cyndi Hatcher and Board President Cheryl Tichon, in La Cañada Flintridge on Friday, January 31, 2020.
Hillside School and Learning Center Executive Director Bob Frank, Principal Cyndi Hatcher and Board President Cheryl Tichon, in La Cañada Flintridge on Friday, January 31, 2020.
(Tim Berger/La Cañada Valley Sun)

Born and raised outside of Tokyo (her father was in the Air Force), Hatcher knew from the time she was in third or fourth grade she wanted to be a math teacher.

“At the high school level, I loved helping my friends in math — I’d peer tutor them for free,” she said. “Math is very creative to me. There are multiple ways of solving problems.”

Hatcher came to the U.S. at 18 and enrolled in a teaching program at Florida State University, earning an associate’s degree in education.

Two years later, in 1999, she got her bachelor’s degree in education from the University of West Florida and began teaching at public schools in West Palm Beach before moving to Southern California in 2001.

With a few years in the public school system under her belt, Hatcher was beginning to reconsider teaching. She just didn’t feel she was impacting students’ lives in a meaningful way.

“Am I really making a difference when I have 150 students — 30 students in each class and five periods a day?” she recalled wondering. “I was uncertain whether this path was for me.”

All that changed when Hatcher learned about Hillside School from a former principal who encouraged her to interview for a math teacher opening there. She saw smaller classrooms and adults working closely with students on their unique challenges.

“I loved it,” she said. “I thought if I’m going to make a difference in teaching, I can make it here.”

Inspired by her work, Hatcher got a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction for secondary mathematics from Cal State L.A. and was eventually promoted to associate director.

Hillside Board Chair Cheryl Tichon praised Hatcher’s experience, knowledge and drive in a Jan. 28 release announcing her selection as director.

“She strives to find solutions where none seem to exist — we are fortunate to have her,” Tichon said.

Hatcher, who lives in La Crescenta, says she hopes to bring some new ideas into the position of executive director but suspects the transition will be smooth, given her close association with the campus and its small student population (about 40 students attend day school, while hundreds more seek support programs and classes there).

“For me, there’s definitely a feeling of knowing I can continue to help students and their families,” she said. “It’s a great feeling — it feels like home.”

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