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Tonya Hawkins named ACS Principal of the Year

a blonde woman sporting a blue suit stand outside a building

Arlington Community Schools is proud to announce that Arlington Elementary’s Tonya Hawkins has been named the district’s Principal of the Year! Now in her third full year as principal, Hawkins earned this honor from among her peers and the district’s executive staff.

“Mrs. Hawkins is one of the hardest working people I know,” Superintendent Jeff Mayo said. “She’s very competitive and has just the right amount of grit to always push for what she feels is in the best interest of AES. She has grown leaps and bounds as a principal while taking advice and mentoring from others. Her organization of school programs and all things related to structure at AES are impeccable, and it has been so inspiring to observe the energy that she brings as a leader. Her first focus is always on what’s best for students, and that shows as she readily adjusts AES’s academic programming and priorities, not to mention leading her school to Level 5 status. I couldn’t be prouder of Mrs. Hawkins and can’t wait to see what she does next.” 

A philosophy of “doing the work together

Hawkins began her tenure as AES principal in January 2021, a time that was anything but normal for a new leader. Not only was it mid-year, but it was during the height of COVID-19. For her staff, that meant new and unfamiliar leadership while navigating everything that came along with the pandemic. Flashforward nearly three years, Hawkins has worked to shift the focus back to what matters most.  “They’ve been through a lot through the years. Going through COVID, teacher and staff changes, administrator changes…that can fundamentally alter how you operate as a group,” Hawkins said. “It’s been a while since we revisited who we are and what’s important to us, so I felt now was the time to circle back.”

And circling back for Hawkins really gets to the roots of her philosophy of being a good leader: doing the work together, step in step. Earlier this school year, Hawkins tasked her leadership team with an internal strategic plan, of sorts. They called it “Family Focus,” a thought experiment that helped identify what’s most important to them as employees and teachers. After several back-and-forth brainstorming sessions, Hawkins, along with her administrators, leadership team and teacher leaders, crafted their Family Focus, a collection of expectations and beliefs for the school as a whole. It includes four pillars: AES is a Place Where We…Believe in Our Students, Set High Expectations, Community Focused and Care for Each Other.

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AES is a place where we…Believe in Our Students, Set High Expectations, Community Focused and Care for Each Other.

“The process truly modeled what we want to see throughout our entire school,” Hawkins said. “We came together to identify not only what makes us special, but the ideals that we want to live up to. Even though we are part of a larger district, how do we stand out and what makes us unique?”

That “togetherness” is one thing her peers had to say about Hawkins when selecting her as ACS Principal of the Year. “She knows how to handle difficult situations and can make the best of it, all while being an encourager and wanting all to succeed,” one colleague said about her. 

And the effectiveness of that leadership style is evident throughout several achievements during her tenure as principal, most notably the school achieving Level 5 growth this past school year, the highest possible. AES also ranked in the Top 10 in all subjects, #2 in 3rd Grade ELA and #1 in 3rd and 5thgrade Math. Hawkins credits that success to changes they’ve made in how teachers collaborate in and across grade-level teams and how they reach students more strategically through intervention – once again, all going back to “being in the work together.” This December, Hawkins is even forgoing her monthly faculty meeting by instead dedicating that time to “peer pop-ins,” which will allow teachers to visit other classrooms to expose them to various and effective learning methods.

“I want them to know that I’m in it with them,” Hawkins continued. “I’m not watching through a microscope to dissect and criticize. I’m learning with you so we can improve in every way that we can. How are you growing? How are you contributing to our teams? How can you be a better teammate? I don’t want anyone sitting in the background. It takes all of us. Everyone has gifts to bring to the table, so bring them.”

In addition to representing ACS as the district’s Principal of the Year, Hawkins will also be submitted for the TN Principal of the Year competition.

Congratulations, Mrs. Tonya Hawkins!