Straight A’s: Vista Grande Principal Pat Hansen
Longtime principal at Danville elementary school talks about her method for improving STAR test scores and another secret to success.
Vista Grande Elementary Principal Pat Hansen
If you went to school in Pleasanton or the San Ramon Valley, chances are you were taught, coached, or mentored by a member of the Hansen family. Tom Hansen was coach and athletic director at Foothill High in Pleasanton for more than 30 years, and has a gymnasium named after him; son Mike Hansen teaches special education and coaches varsity basketball at Dougherty Valley. Daughter Kimberly Smith taught kindergarten before becoming a mom.
And then there is matriarch Pat Hansen, whose four-decade career in education includes teaching math and serving as an assistant principal in elementary and middle schools in Pleasanton. She’s now at Danville’s Vista Grande Elementary where she has been principal for 18 years. It’s fair to say Hansen has seen a lot of changes in education, including budget crises, the push for standardized testing, the class-size conundrum and California’s slide from being the golden state of public education.
Here, Pat Hansen talks about these changes and how she still loves going to work every day.
Here’s a magic wand. If you could use it to fix anything in education, what would it be?
I would reduce class sizes. The more time you spend one-on-one with kids, the better they will learn.
The second thing I would do is hire a full-time tech person for this school. We cannot operate with the little bit of time that we have with our tech person.
The third thing I would do is lobby for teachers to have raises, so they wouldn’t have to work second jobs, or they didn’t have to live in an apartment, because they can’t afford a house. They work incredibly long hours.
If you need a tech person, you must have quite a bit of technology.
We’re really pushing 21st century learning skills, which is technology basically. Every fifth grader this year has an iPad. It’s school-owned, but everyone has one to one. Through Chevron, other donors, our parents and our district education foundation, we’ve accumulated a whole lot of technology in a short amount of time. The horse kind of came before the cart. We need staff development to really learn how to learn this technology to its best. The kids actually know more about it than we do.
What do you look for in a teacher?
I can tell in the first five minutes whether I‘m interested, because in those first five minutes, whether it’s middle or elementary school, if they haven’t told me how excited they are to teach, how much they love being with kids, and they haven’t expressed a passion for teaching, I’m not interested. Personally I don’t care how much you know. I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.
What are you particularly proud of at Vista Grande?
I’m so proud of my staff and our students. I’ll give you an example. A year before last we took a little dip in our STAR scores. They were still very good, but it concerned me because regardless of what anyone tells you, including your superintendent, your STAR scores do matter. People can go on the Internet and check them out.
With our staff I said, “We’ve become too complacent about STAR testing, and it really is a reflection of what kids have actually learned.” I said, “I want to have a rally.” One teacher said, “Hey, my class will make up a song. Another third-grade teacher said, “We’ve got a song we could sing, too.” I said, “Let’s get our student body officers to make these big signs about how to prepare for testing, to get plenty of rest, eat a good breakfast and come with a positive attitude.”
So we have this rally and sing all these songs and do all the rah-rah stuff, and our scores went up. We increased our API by about 15 points, which is really big.
Tell about another of your secrets to success.
As I told my parents at back-to-school night, I come from an athletic family. We were watching the basketball games during the Olympic games and after the U.S. team won, reporters were asking Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] to what did he attribute the success of his team.
He said, “You know, these are prima donnas; these are NBA stars. And anyone can teach players about the Xs and Os. It’s not about the Xs and Os. It’s about the relationships you build with your players. I jumped out of my seat and I said, “Yes, that’s exactly how I’ve always felt.”
If you can build your relationships with parents or students or teachers, they will pretty much follow along and do whatever they can to make the situation wonderful.
What keeps you up at night?
I never sleep all night. I wish I could. I lie there and think about, wow, if you take all the money out of school that our parents donate, we would have a bare-roots education. We wouldn’t have music, we wouldn’t have art, we wouldn’t have technology. All those things are funded by our parents. I’m always thinking about how blessed we are to live in an area where education is such a priority.
I love every single moment of being involved in education. I say this and honestly mean it, I wake up every single morning, and think, let me better today than I was yesterday.