New principal arrives on campus


Miah Thirion

Tony Vining enters his first year of principal during the unprecedented pandemic. “I’d say my immediate concern is how do we safely stay in person for the rest of the semester and then get a couple of weeks to prepare for the spring?” said Vining.

Max Sotelo, Online editor-in-chief

Tony Vining, the new principal of Cactus Shadows is as enthusiastic about camping and classic ‘80s movies as he is about making personal connections with the school community. 

“I feel like my strength is talking in person, getting out there, being visible with kids and staff and talking to parents and talking to the community. I want to be walking halls, I want to be walking into the classroom and I want to be saying hi to kids, saying hi to staff. I’ll be at events, mucking around, talking to parents and kids, it’s what I do,” said Vining.

On Sept. 9, when school re-opened for in-person instruction, it was his first time seeing most students in the flesh. As he stood greeting people at the front gate, he had a lot on his mind. Cactus Shadows was making local headlines after 25 teachers called out sick due to COVID-19 concerns. Now, a few months later after most of the dust from the initial opening has settled, rising cases of COVID-19 in the state have raised concern over the possibility of school closing again.

“Currently, the talk is just making sure that we do everything we can to keep us safe and keep us open,” said Vining.

Superintendent Dr. Debbi Burdick said on November 24 in a statement released to the district that CCUSD has a positivity rate “below 1%” and that schools will stay open while it remains safe.

“Being as honest as I can be, as transparent as I can be, has been probably the most beneficial versus just necessarily saying, ‘we got it all figured out.’ We’ve never done this before and no one has,” said Vining.

Until now, for 22 years, he worked for the Peoria Unified School District. He studied at NYU before beginning his career as an English teacher at Centennial High School. Eventually he moved on to work in various administrative positions such as overseeing curriculum and instruction and athletic director at Cactus High School.

“You never know what’s going to be thrown at you. I’ve had some very interesting, challenging experiences from each of those roles, which I think truly allows me to kind of be able to know, ‘okay, here’s how we could handle this,’” said Vining.

James Swetter was principal of Cactus Shadows for two years until he announced at the end of last year that he would be leaving to support his wife’s new career opportunity in Hawaii. Swetter was a member of the staff at Cactus Shadows for nearly ten years. New to the district, Vining received parting advice from him based on his own experiences at the school, including making sure to build relationships with students.

“He gave me all the resources I needed. [Mr. Swetter] kind of gave me the lay of the land [and was] super positive about everything. I appreciated the fact that it wasn’t a ‘here’s the keys, peace out, later.’ He told me I could call him right now, and I know I could if I needed something,” said Vining.

He is inspired by his two sons, aged seven and eleven, to provide a good learning environment at Cactus Shadows. He hopes to do this with three C’s: Connections, Communication, and Consistency. As principal, when he makes big decisions that affect the students, he wants to try to include them as much as possible. 

“If I’m going to make decisions on policies, if I’m going to make decisions about programs and access to curriculum. You have to know what the student body needs and what they are looking for. And if you don’t, you’re making uninformed decisions. And that’s never good,” said Vining.