Principal Hodges finishes her Hudson career on a high noteAlong with the usual tools of her trade, Pat Hodges will likely be packing up a hard hat as she prepares to leave the principal’s office at River Crest.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
Along with the usual tools of her trade, Pat Hodges will likely be packing up a hard hat as she prepares to leave the principal’s office at River Crest.
While serving as principal at the district’s “country” school, Houlton Elementary, and the district’s neighborhood school, Willow River, she oversaw major remodeling and renovations at both schools. And she was the district’s choice to lead Hudson’s first “green” school, River Crest through its design, construction, staffing and opening two years ago.
Hodges says that the building process and leadership of River Crest has been the highlight of her more than 24 years as an educator in the Hudson School District.
“It really has been the pinnacle of my time here. It was wonderful to have it come toward the end of my career. It was a lot of hard work with even more new experiences but it was very rewarding and very energizing. I firmly believe that opening this school with all the emphasis on its sustainability has been very important, not just to the students and families who attend here, but to the community as a whole.”
She says she the teachers and students of River Crest all share a “real passion” for both the mission and the message of the school.
Hodges, who is originally from Green Bay, was teaching in Washington, D.C. when she decided to try and return to her home state. She didn’t know anything about Hudson when she made a very quick trip back to interview for a special education position at Rock School back in 1986 and got the job.
From Rock, she moved on to Hudson High School where she was a learning disabilities teacher and reading specialist. From there she headed into the country at Houlton Elementary where she also served as the gifted and talented education coordinator. While at Houlton, she took on a dual role, serving both as a classroom teacher and the principal before assuming the principal’s role fulltime there.
In the late 1990s she left Houlton to become principal of Willow River Elementary School where she oversaw a major renovation. She was principal there for 10 years before she was asked to lead the River Crest project and to become the school’s first principal when it opened in fall 2008.
During her tenure, Hodges has seen important changes in education but some fundamental things have not changed.
“The biggest change has got to be in technology. I used to write memos on a yellow legal pad, transcribe them and have to make multiple copies to get the word out to the staff. And that’s just a small example. And what I now use every day is nothing compared to what the kids know and they are learning more all the time. It has changed the day to day operation of education so much.”
Hodges said her role as a principal is two-fold — that of operations manager of building with some 475 students and a full staff and as instructional leader and mentor to the teachers and staff who work there.
“There is much more emphasis on instructional leadership now and I really enjoy that part of the job. I like getting into the classrooms, observing our teachers at work, listening to them, giving feedback and problem solving with them.”
Hodges says what she does, along with the teachers and staff, all contribute to the “culture” of a building that promotes learning for everyone inside its walls.
“Teachers have a much better understanding of the educational process these days. They know their students better and know how to individualize the best practices they learn about to serve the needs of their kids. It is a big part of my job to support their efforts.”
But with all that said, Hodges says the job of being principal is one that needs to be flexible. “I can have my day planned out but it is rare that something unexpected doesn’t come up. That’s part of the job — to be there if a parent or student comes in and wants to talk or someone on the staff needs something. No two days are ever alike and that keeps it interesting.”
She knows she will miss a lot of things about her job but at the top of the list are the students and her staff.
Come retirement, Hodges and her husband Mark, who retired from teaching at HHS a couple of years back, plan to spend more time at their cabin and travel among other things. She says she isn’t done with education yet but doesn’t know what that will look like post-retirement.
But before she goes, she agrees to offer some advice. To students, “I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but these years, K-12, are very important to the people you will become. Don’t give up when it gets hard or it doesn’t make sense to you. When you get down the road, you’ll understand and be glad you kept at it.”
To her successor, she recommends listening first. “It is so important when you first come on board to listen to what teachers have to say. Then make decisions based on what you hear that are good for your school. That’s the cornerstone to trust and collaboration and creates the foundation for your building.”
To parents, she says to trust that the decisions and actions taken by the school and their children’s teachers are made in their best interest. “We discuss every child entrusted to us and carefully place and plan for them to ensure their success. Our experience and understanding of our students gives us unique insight and guides all our efforts on their behalf.”
As her time as River Crest principal winds down, Hodges says she is savoring her weekly lunches with students in her office and time spent with her staff. But just like the students she has guided throughout her career, the time has come to take what she has learned and move on.
For more information about River Crest, go to www.k12.wi.us.edu and click on schools.