With a teaching career that spans nearly every grade from PreK to high school, Rebecca “Becky” Spencer had done it all but be principal, so when the opportunity arose to lead Hillsboro Elementary School, she jumped at the chance.
“I have always been intrigued by building the whole program, not just with the classroom, but the bigger picture of it,” Spencer said. “I always kept saying, ‘when I was older, when I was older.’ Then [my husband] Jody informed me that I was not so young anymore. After that, I think it became more of a ‘this is the perfect time.’ Hillsboro had gone through a lot of changes and it’s the perfect school for someone who just wants to stay [in the county].”
Spencer loved HES when her children, Haley and Conner, attended, and after conceding that maybe her husband was right about her age, she knew it was time to try her turn as principal.
Spencer plans to make her first year as principal a learning experience for herself. She doesn’t think making tons of changes at the beginning of the year is in the best interest of the students at HES.
“I don’t want to make massive changes,” she said. “Hillsboro currently is absolutely rocking it as far as county-wide and state-wide with testing, so they are already a very strong school in reading and math. They have made huge leaps and bounds just within the last two or three years, so I don’t really want to make any changes that are going to slow down the train in the direction it is going.”
While she doesn’t want to rock the boat, Spencer does have a concern about the reading abilities of students county-wide and she wants to make sure HES students continue to strive to be on or even above grade level in their reading skills.
“I know we’re above the state, but to me, thirty-five percent at the state is not good enough,” Spencer said. “There’s not a reason in the world that a third through fifth grader all shouldn’t, one hundred precent, be able to read at that level. I understand that as we get to middle school and higher, the reading becomes more complex, but to me there shouldn’t be a child in third grade who cannot read on grade level. So, my end goal over several year’s time, is one hundred percent in both math and reading.”
Before she is able to make those changes, Spencer said she needs to observe the school and fully understand how the students are learning and where improvements can be made.
In the meantime, Spencer has several goals which will keep the school going in the right direction. She wants to continue having a relationship with the community and include more community programs in the school for the students.
“We have phenomenal support in Hillsboro and I would like to continue that, but I would like to pull more in,” she said. “I know we have a larger grandparent population that would love to just come in and listen to a child read. That goes a long way for a child, just to have that one-on-one attention, so I would like to really promote more community involvement.
“My main goal is more community oriented and to slowly move the academics over the next couple years,” she continued. “They are doing phenomenal work here. I just want to continue to support them and keep them going in the direction they’re already moving.”
Utilizing her experiences in different grade levels, Spencer said she wants to help the school’s teachers see beyond their classrooms and to see where the students will be in two or three years.
“Everything builds like a pyramid, so preschool needs to not just understand preschool, they need to understand what a third grader looks like,” Spencer said. “‘Where am I taking them to and how long do we have to get them there?’ The fact that I’ve taught almost every single grade up and down the spectrum might have seemed a little ADD at the time, but as a principal, it has given me the opportunity to see exactly what each child is capable of at that grade level and how hard to push them.”
As a way to aid students in increasing their knowledge, Spencer hopes to bring in more presenters and programs which give the students a visual education that coincides with what the are learning in the classroom.
“I’m an avid reader, so as I’m reading, the little pictures are going in my head,” she said. “There’s nothing worse than watching the movie afterward and going, ‘that’s not it. If I could have directed that, it would have been so much better.’ So I think if you don’t have a mental picture to put with the words, the words don’t mean anything. Reading isn’t just about reading. Reading is a doorway to a world that is beyond and if you don’t have a visual to connect with that world, the reading has no meaning.”
As she prepares for the year ahead, Spencer is excited to show the students at HES what they are capable of and what their education can do for them.
“I am just really thrilled with the opportunity,” she said. “The opportunity to not just lead a school, but to lead one hundred children into a bigger ‘what can you do?’ I like the idea of working just with ‘what does this third grader need to know?’ I like thinking, ‘what does this third grader need to know so that he will stay in Pocahontas County, have a real job in Pocahontas County?’ What kind of changes can we make, not just to the children, but to their community, therefore, there entire future.”