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Pin Oak MS principal living her dream as an HISD administrator

2014 April 18
by HISD Communications

In this week’s I Am HISD, which features district students, graduates, employees, and other team members, Pin Oak Middle School Principal Susan Monaghan talks about what first brought her to Texas from Michigan, when she knew she wanted to lead a campus, and the secret to her success as an administrator.

You’ve been a member of Team HISD since 1983, when you were hired as a third-grade teacher at Lockhart Elementary School. Since then, you’ve also served as a counselor and an assistant principal at various schools. What made you decide to go into administration?

I grew up in Michigan, in a small town called Ludington. It only had a population of about eight or nine thousand people. But I had a really great assistant principal in high school there who I really connected with, and I remember thinking, “Someday, I want to do that.” He was quite an inspiration.

Oh! I didn’t know you were a Michigander. What brought you down here?

Actually, they were recruiting in the early 1980s, saying come on down, we’ve got jobs for you. And it was really hard to get jobs up there at the time, so a huge number of people ended up moving down here. One of the running jokes at the time was, “The last one out, turn off the lights.”

You were the principal at Lovett Elementary School for six years before coming to Pin Oak Middle School. What are some of the biggest differences between leading an elementary school and running a middle school?

Well, first of all, the size. Middle schools are so much bigger. I wasn’t used to having an assistant principal, and now I have four. And it’s also different in that there’s more of a shared responsibility with other administrators I’m working side by side with. Not that I handled everything administratively at Lovett, by any means, but I couldn’t delegate things like teacher evaluations to someone else.

The time commitment (at a middle school) is also much greater. The kids are older, so there are more activities in the evening and on the weekends. I don’t mind, because I consider it a part of my job, but it’s not at all unusual for me to work a 12-15-hour day.

Lovett is a fine arts magnet, while Pin Oak’s focus is on languages. Did that require any adjustments in thinking on your part to make the transition?

No. The only other change was learning about languages and trying to staff them. At Lovett, we had a whole budget devoted to that, but here, the budget is much smaller, so we had to get creative in trying to staff for five different languages. Our offerings need to align with the elementary school the students come from and the high school they’re going to, but we definitely focus on what’s most popular. Hebrew is just impossible, because the parents want it, but the kids don’t want to take it. They prefer to receive their Hebrew instruction outside of school.

Still, we have an amazing, amazing staff of language teachers now, so I hope we don’t have any changes for a long, long time. They are all so experienced, and it took a long time to get the balance just perfect.

You’ve been an administrator for about 15 years now, earning regular promotions along the way. To what do you attribute your success?

I’ve just had a really great team of people supporting me: Anastasia Lindo, Julia Dimmitt, Ann Sledge, Anvi Utter. All of those people were so accommodating, and there just wasn’t a dumb question I could ask. I think our middle school principals are such a collaborative group. It’s not like, “Well, I’m just going to do this thing on my campus and not tell anyone else about it.” This job is difficult enough, and it’s really important that we all lean on each other and help each other out.

I understand you’ve been tutoring eighth-grade students at Forest Brook Middle School in reading on Saturdays. What made you volunteer and why is doing so important to you?

Dr. Rick Fernandez actually sent out an email to me and Kim Heckman at Pershing, asking if we had any teachers who might be interested in helping. I felt bad he didn’t have many takers, so I told him I was happy to help out, but that I would much rather do reading and math.

It was a great experience. Even though it was on a Saturday morning, the kids were so receptive to doing the work, and they had the coolest group of teachers. They did a great job of making it interesting for the kids. They did short fun things, and kept it exciting, like, “Who’s going to be the first one to read this passage and answer this question?” I so hope the kids’ scores come back proving they worked hard, because they really did.

If you know a graduate, student, employee, or other member of Team HISD who should be featured here, please email us at info@houstonisd.org.
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