Monday, June 29, 2015

Changing Education for the Best

Passionate about education, Donna Hargens of Jefferson Country Public Schools opens up about her life after teaching in a classroom and what inspires her to make such a difference in children’s lives.

Today's Woman: Do you miss being in the classroom?
Donna Hargens: Absolutely. The best time of my career was probably making a difference right in front of students, and I love to visit and talk to students every chance I get. That’s where the heart of what we do is – right in that classroom. I had this wonderful experience: my dad passed in December, and a former student to whom I had taught Spanish in Wisconsin saw the obituary and came to the wake. We talked about Spanish and how he uses it – he’s a hospice nurse now – and to me, the idea that you were important enough in somebody’s life for them to come to see you, and that they use what you taught them to help other people, is very rewarding.

TW: Why did you transition into administration?
DH: My first day as a teacher, the principal was talking to us about the year and what we were going to accomplish together. I’m all about moments, and it was right then that I decided I would eventually go into administration. I thought originally that I would teach for four years, but I actually taught for seven years because I love to teach. But the seed of that, of doing what I do now, was realizing that as an administrator, I could make a difference not only for a classroom or several classrooms, but for a whole school or district of students.

TW: How do you see your current role in education?
DH: I see my role as support. We have such amazing students who want to have a quality education and to do well, and there are sometimes lots of obstacles that they have to overcome to do that. Our job is to help them overcome it. When you’re a teacher, you see a kid’s face and you know that’s important. When you’re a principal helping teachers solve problems so kids can learn and achieve, you know that’s important. As a superintendent, you can influence, in Jefferson County’s case 101,000 students, and I know that’s important. Now, my eye is on improving the world of all those students, on creating the conditions and support so that the people who do the most important work – the teachers, the principals, and of course the students – can make the magic in the classroom happen.

TW: How do you unwind?
DH: My personality is naturally more introverted, but I’m in an extroverted role, so I have to sort of back away every once in a while and just recharge. I love to read. It’s usually work-related, about something that can help or inspire me, and I often read books that people suggest to me. I don’t need to spend a lot of time reading or being quiet to recharge, but because I know that about myself, I do take some time.
TW: What are you currently struggling with?
DH: I tend to lead with what needs to be done, and sometimes I forget to pause and celebrate a little bit about what has been done. We have amazing employees at JCPS, and we have amazing students, and I’d really like to spend more time acknowledging their hard work and effort – just to stop, take a moment, and enjoy this part of our journey together. I think I need to do that more.
TW: What would surprise people about you?
DH: You know, I was a high school principal, and high school principals have a certain personality that just kind of goes with being one. So I would always tell the students, at graduation, for instance, “Don’t try to hug me. I don’t hug.” But I think people would be surprised that I actually like being hugged, it’s just that I’m probably not going to initiate it.

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