Four years ago, Jenna Hill came to Bellbrook Middle School.
In August, she’ll be leading it.
“I’ve had the opportunity to learn from one of the very best,” Hill said of the retiring Jeff Eckley. Eckley, who spent 25 years with the district – the last four as the middle school principal, decided to end his career in education this coming June.
“I’m beyond excited, super thrilled,” Hill said. “I absolutely love the community, the school … I’m excited to continue to lead the great work being done by the staff, who love students, and really just go by one of my favorite philosophies, which is to always do what’s best for students.”
Originally from California, Hill came to Ohio on a softball scholarship, playing for the Cedarville Yellow Jackets. She graduated and started her career with the Oakwood school district for nine years before coming to Bellbrook.
“I loved my time there and I loved teaching, but I was ready to take the next step,” Hill said.
Hill wanted to continue to work with kids, but in a bit of a different fashion. After she completed her Masters and later earned her Principal’s License, she started looking for jobs and that’s how she found Bellbrook.
And the soon-to-be-principal’s work with the district has been impressive, aiding in making sure the District was once again named an Ohio School to Watch by the National Forum for Schools to Watch. The distinction was handed out to just three Ohio schools in 2023, as Bellbrook scored a 22.6 out of 24 possible points.
At the March 9 Board of Education meeting, when Hill was approved as the next Principal, Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local School District Superintendent Doug Cozad took a moment to recognize Hill and her family just after she was unanimously approved.
“Mrs. Hill has spent the last four years as our assistant principal and she’s done a fantastic job,” Cozad said. “She was by far the best candidate through the whole process and really knocked it out of the park.
“She is very much a part of our positive culture here at the middle school. She’s a well-respected, well-rounded instructional leader. It is great to have her onboard and we are looking forward to the great things she will accomplish.”
When Hill takes over for good, the community shouldn’t expect too much to change.
“My teachers do so much good here. They are fantastic,” Hill said. “I don’t want to change a whole lot. There are great things happening at the middle school and I just want it to continue.
“That being said, everyone has room for growth, including myself. I’d really like to amplify our PBIS program. We want to try to focus on the positive, and reward kids for great work like they’re already doing. We want to keep the kids going in the right direction. We want them to love school and be life-long learners.”
That’s something Hill takes from her own experience. With her parents steeped in education – her father (Jim) recently retired after teaching English for 41 years – her thirst for learning is virtually unquenchable.
“We are never done, and I want to instill that in our students,” Hill said. “I love helping the students find something they are passionate about and learning as much as they can about it. That’s what I think about when I think about the education I want for my children.”
Hill makes her home on a small farm in the area with her husband Ryan – also a teacher – and her two children Elsie (4) and JD (2). And though she’s from California, Hill said she has no designs on heading west, calling her life here, “a little piece of paradise.”
But even in paradise, there’s work to be done.
And once July 1 hits and Hill holds the reins on her own, she knows she and the rest of her staff will step up to the challenge.
“I think it’s going to be a time of transition for everyone,” Hill said. “(Eckley is one of the) staples of the school community. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the last 20 years who came through the school who hasn’t been affected positively by Jeff. Whether he was their teacher, principal, coach, there’s going to be a hole.
“But, we have an amazing staff and we will adapt to the change. Jeff leaves such an amazing legacy, as hard as it will be to go on without him in the building, he’s taught us well. He is the driving force behind always doing what’s best for kids and he’s instilled that in all of us. We hope we will make him proud and continue to pave the way forward.”