As she stood in the upstairs teachers’ lounge at Helms Dual Language Elementary School, Lola Perejón was talking to her parents on FaceTime, who were calling in from Spain.
Perejón, the principal at Helms, does not normally call her family during a regular school day, but this was a special occasion.
“Hi mom and dad,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan said to the pair. “So nice to meet you!”
Dr. Lathan was at the elementary school to surprise Principal Perejón as the Elementary Principal of the Year. Originally from Spain, Perejón was joined by her husband in person and her parents virtually to celebrate the recognition.
“This is unexpected, but it makes me feel good that all the work that we’ve done for the students and the community is valued,” Perejón said. “We have all worked really hard, the students, the staff, and the teachers.”
Perejón is known as an outstanding leader for her campus, but also throughout the Northwest Area of HISD. She has set up the Lunch and Learn program, to share best practices with other principals. She has also been instrumental in improving the TEA rating earned by the school and has closed the achievement gap at the school by 10 points.
On top of that, Helms has maintained a 97 percent attendance rate, even throughout the pandemic. Hard work comes natural to Perejón, who describes herself as a “helper at heart.”
“I will stop anything I’m doing to help someone,” Perejón said. “I’ll help my teachers or anyone to get anything done.”
The Secondary Principal of the Year, Gretchen Kasper-Hoffman at Tanglewood Middle School, was also joined by her family. Her husband and son looked on as she was surprised—by Dr. Lathan and the cheerleading team—in the school’s second-floor library, which overlooks a canopy of live oak trees along San Felipe Street.
A “lifer” in the district, Kasper-Hoffman started her career as a student teacher in HISD and worked as a teacher and eventually an administrator.
“I really believe in this district and everything we do,” Kasper-Hoffman said. “It’s just so important what we do in our district, in such a large district. I’m so honored to be a part of it.”
It was an easy decision to name Principal Kasper-Hoffman as the Secondary Principal of the Year, as she’s led the implementation of the Verizon Technology grant at the schools, where 100 percent of the students now have a laptop. She has also made the school’s International Baccalaureate program a model for middle schools across Texas.
“She is an instructional leader. She supports other principals in our district,” Lathan said. “She is very well respected not only by her staff, but by parents and all of her colleagues in HISD. We are proud to have her.”
As for Kasper-Hoffman, she says she could not see herself doing anything else.
“Education is the most important thing we have. It’s the reason I became a teacher,” she said. “All of my students will tell you how hard I push, because I know it is what makes change. It opens doors.”