Toni Haight

Freeman Elementary Principal Toni Haight, left, stands with Angie Estell, director of USD 261 Special Education. Estell submitted Haight’s nomination for the Administrator of the Year Award by the Kansas Association of Special Education Administrators (KASEA).

Tonette “Toni” Chelgren Haight, a Derby alumna and principal at Freeman Elementary School, was awarded by a statewide group for her administrative efforts.

The Kansas Association of Special Education Administrators (KASEA) recognized Haight as the 2019 Administrator of the Year during an event July 31 at the Hyatt Regency in Wichita.

“It was very humbling for me to receive this award,” Haight said.

“My staff, they’re the troopers out there working with [students] on a day-to-day basis.”

Haight, who graduated from Derby High School in 1990, has been principal of Freeman Elementary School in Haysville since 2018. She started working in the building as a full-time teacher in 2006.

While students in special education may require additional resources to achieve academic success, Haight says it’s important to treat all students fairly and to provide equal support. This manifests through flexible seating and individualized curriculum.

“We do whatever it is that we can to provide the best atmosphere for that child because every child has a different need to help them have a successful year and learn what they need to learn,” Haight said.

The elementary school has over 300 students.

Haight’s nomination for the award was submitted by Angie Estell, director of special education for USD 261. She first met Haight when Haight was still teaching special education students during the extended school year.

“While working with her, I noticed the commitment Toni had to provide a caring environment for all her students, without discarding high academic expectations,” Estell said.

Though Haight has not been an administrator for long, Estell said she is a natural leader who builds trust and respect with her colleagues and students.

“[Haight’s] decisions are always based on what’s best for the students,” she said.

Haight said it was an honor that Estell recognized her efforts enough to nominate her.

“This award is for the support that I give to my staff and my students who fall in this category in our special ed program,” she said. “But ultimately, what I do for them, I do for everybody in my building.”

After her dad was transferred to Wichita for his job, Haight began attending Derby High School during her junior year, and later graduated from Wichita State University with a bachelor’s degree in education. She also has her master’s degree in education leadership from WSU.

Though Haight no longer lives in Derby, her parents still live in the same home, “so I’m there all the time,” she said.

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