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Hartman MS principal sees success by keeping the focus on children

2013 October 3
by HISD Communications

In this week’s I am HISD, which features district students, graduates, employees, and volunteers, Hartman Middle School Principal Geovanny Ponce talks about how an engineering degree led him to public education, the most important lesson he took away from Rice University’s entrepreneurship program, and the secret to his success as a campus leader.

You earned your first college degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Honduras, yet you’ve been in education for 18 years now. How did an interest in how things are put together lead you to where you are now? And did you ever actually work as an engineer?

Geovanny Ponce

Yes, I did. Back in Honduras, they have three different shifts of learning: morning, afternoon, and evening. So I was teaching at night while working as an engineer. My passion was always to teach others, to teach children. More than being a manager, I was also a teacher. I would be telling my team of engineers, “Okay, we need to move in this way,” or, “Okay, we need to fix the machines in this way.”

You graduated from Rice (University’s) Education Entrepreneurship Program in 2012. What was the most important thing you took away from that experience?

It’s a great program. It changed my life and the way I saw myself as a leader. At REEP, you have inspirational speakers who come and talk with you to prepare you for the reality of urban education and how to be effective leader. I still email them about once a month at least, and I work with other leaders around me to transfer that to them.

I’ve heard that a few of the standards you live by are that “school culture impacts school achievement” and you “inspect what I expect.” Can you expand on those a little bit?

Something that I tell my teachers and APs all the time is to welcome the children, to show that we care about them. We have about 1,436 students at any time, and my goal is to know every single child by name, so when I see them walking, I can call them by their own name. I know it’s hard, but we need to learn about our students because we don’t know what they’re going through, and our teachers have to, to effectively plan for their lessons.

I spend my whole day outside working the school, visiting classrooms. And every morning, I do a walk-though of the whole school, to make sure that doors are open, classrooms are clean, and teachers are ready for them. Every single day. I have very high standards. I expect my teachers to be on time and to be prepared. I review lesson plans with my administrative team and even model an effective lesson for teachers when needed.

You were named HISD’s Assistant Principal of the Year in 2012 and its New Secondary Principal of the Year in 2013. To what do you attribute your success?

I believe that I am child-centered. In the first place is children, in the second place is children, and in the third place is children. And if I have another place, it’s children. I interact with the children at Hartman the same way I do with my own. I also believe in education. And I believe an effective teacher can change a life. I truly believe that. And I think that’s why we have succeeded, even though we have a high number—about 380—overage students, 800 at-risk students, 25 percent LEP students, and 15 percent in Special Education.

In August, you were featured in an article on the George W. Bush Institute’s website about how you have transformed Hartman. What was it like to be recognized by someone other than HISD?

To be honest, it still hasn’t really clicked in my mind yet, because I’m so busy. I don’t like that many compliments. I just want to help my children. They don’t have anybody but us. In this community, there is lots of poverty. The only clean place they have is here. The only good food they have is here. The only solution is education, and I have that. So that’s my goal, to provide a high quality education to every single child who comes through that door. Every one.

Why is it so important to keep learning?

I come from a very poor country—a Third World country—and I was very poor. But education changed my life and now it’s my turn to pay it back. This is my mission. Not only to educate children to pass a test but to be ready for life. In fact, I just got into the Region IV Aspiring Superintendent and Education Leadership Academy. Not because I want to be one, but because it reaches a community, and the more people you can reach, the better. If it’s for the children, I will do it. Whatever it takes.

If you know a graduate, student, employee, or other member of Team HISD who should be featured here, please email us at
2 Responses leave one →
  1. Joy Ugboajah permalink
    October 4, 2013

    I am proud to have Mr. Ponce as my principal. He is an outstanding human being. He not only cares for the children, but he also supports the adults who work in Hartman. I know he’ll go places in education.

  2. Jacq-Johnese Green permalink
    October 4, 2013

    It is indeed an honor to work for and with such an humble spirit and dedicated leader as Mr. Ponce. He governs our school with a strong sense of compassion, sincerity and divine wisdom. His commitment to ‘educating the whole child to be successful in a global society’ is phenomenal and is consistently made apparent in his every word, action and affiliation. I attribute Mr. Ponce’s success to his grit and passion; I am certain that they will continue to catapult him to even greater heights!

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