Six questions with new Belleville West High School principal Malcolm Hill

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Malcolm Hill, who hails from East St. Louis and has a doctorate in educational leadership, is entering his 30th year in education by joining Belleville West High School as principal.

He’s succeeding Richard Mertens, who retired in June after serving as Belleville West’s principal for over a decade.

Hill started his career in the Normandy School District in north St. Louis County. During his 17-year tenure, he was an elementary school teacher, high school social studies teacher and department chair, head basketball coach, athletic director and assistant principal.

From there, he went to the Maplewood Richmond Heights School District, where he was the athletic director before becoming assistant principal at the University City School District.

In 2016, after meeting former Belleville District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier and current Superintendent Brian Mentzer, Hill made the leap across the Mississippi to continue his career in the Belleville community. He was the coordinator of administrative services before becoming associate principal at Belleville East and now, he’s the new principal at Belleville West.

“I gave 22 years in the state of Missouri. I would not have left Missouri if Belleville School District was not an outstanding school district,” Hill said, from the administration to the teachers to the support staff “who make this place run.”

“I’m here just to promote our school district, and I want parents to send their students to Belleville West knowing that I care about their education and that I’m going to help them achieve their dreams.”

Hill’s education is as extensive as his experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in special and elementary education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from National Louis University, another master’s degree in educational administration from Lindenwood University, a specialist degree in central office leadership from Missouri Baptist University and a doctorate in educational leadership from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

With the new school year just around the corner, the Belleville News-Democrat sat down with Hill to get to know him more.

Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in education?

Hill said he knew since seventh grade that he wanted to be a teacher and coach. He always admired his teachers and coaches growing up, and his mother was a school teacher in the East St. Louis District 189 and St. Louis Public Schools for 30 years.

“I’ve always wanted to be in the field of education,” he said.

What have you found to be both the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of being a school administrator?

The most rewarding aspect, Hill said, is helping young people. He grew up in East St. Louis and was in the final graduating class of Assumption High School before it closed. With many families struggling with poverty and the prevalence of crime, he said East St. Louis was not an easy place to grow up, but he has pride in where he comes from.

In school, he had great teachers and coaches, and his high school basketball coach and algebra teacher, Ronnie Woods, helped him get to college on a basketball scholarship. “That’s something that stuck with me for the rest of my life, and that’s my life’s mission is to help young people,” Hill said.

He said it’s the most rewarding thing to see kids, including those who come from tough backgrounds, graduate from high school, get awarded scholarships and move on to become responsible adults.

The most difficult aspect, he said, is poverty. “We do have a number of students that come from impoverished backgrounds, and some of them are dealt very bad cards,” he said. “They have to fight their way out of it, but I also try to preach to them that the education will change their lives.”

He said social media has also been difficult to navigate as a school administrator and classroom teacher. He personally believes social media is not for children as they can sometimes use it the wrong way or see inappropriate things.

What are some of your priorities for this upcoming school year?

“First of all, I just want to say it’s been a great transition. I have big shoes to fill. Rich Mertens was one outstanding principal, so I want to continue the success that he had,” Hill said.

His plan for the school, he said, is instructional leadership. “I want to ensure that teaching and learning goes on at all times, every day.”

He said he also wants to support the school’s rich tradition in athletics and all the extracurricular programs, sustaining their success while he’s principal.

What message would you like to tell your students as they come back to school this year?

Hill’s first message for students is that they are going to make mistakes. “Learn from your mistakes. Hold yourself accountable. Always apologize to repair the harm.”

His second message is “that education can change your life.” He said that students should take their education very seriously, regardless of whether they’re going to college. They should move on to a higher level of institution outside of Belleville West to pick up different skills that will lead to their financial success. The new Center for Academic and Vocational Excellence — or the CAVE for short — provides that opportunity for a lot of students who want to get into their career right away, Hill said.

And parents?

“I take education very seriously because it changed my life. I am here to support their child,” Hill said.

He said parents are sending their kids to Belleville West for eight hours or more a day, and he’s going to do everything to help them and their children.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Hill said that everyone who knows him knows that he is a basketball guy. (Hill’s son, Malcolm Hill Jr., is a professional basketball player and Belleville East graduate.) He enjoys teaching and coaching the game of basketball, and does a lot of AAU coaching during his free time. He’s also an adjunct professor at Missouri Baptist University.

“I enjoy teaching the students who are just coming into education, but I also enjoy coaching, helping students try to win basketball scholarships,” he said.