In the Principal's Office
This is a weekly series shining a light on principals in Charlottesville’s and Albemarle County’s public schools.
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Many educators realize they wanted to go into the education while in high school or college. But for Adam Hastings, principal of Walker Upper Elementary, it was different.

Education has been embedded in him since he was a child. His parents were educators, and his mom taught seventh grade. At one point, his mom and he taught the same age group.

“Education was an easy choice,” he said. “I got into it. … I fell in love with it.”

And over the years, he has held several positions in education. Prior to becoming the face of learning at Walker, he served as a school board member, dean and adjunct faculty member, to name a few.

Q: What do you enjoy about being an educator?

A: My answer at this age is different than the answer I would’ve given you in my 20s. I adore working with children. I adore working with the adults who work to serve the children. I believe the most important thing that goes on in our school is the relationship between teachers and students.

When I was a teacher, the students were in my room. I built the relationships. And now, as a principal, my job is to support the teachers as they build those relationships, and that’s a different lens.

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Hastings said he's going to focus on making Walker awesome, and whatever happens after the reconfiguration, happens.

Credit: Billy Jean Louis/Charlottesville Tomorrow

I’ve done a number of jobs in the community over the years. The thing that I enjoy the most is the impact that we are having on our community. And I love what happens inside my doors every day.

Q: You served as a school board member for two years. Talk a little bit about that experience.

A: When you’re a teacher or a principal, you think of the school board as this body that sits over there and has ultimate authority and power and knows all things that go on in the division and they’re able to make decisions and really impact things that are going on.

And then when I moved into the school board role, I came to understand that the school board only has three jobs: they approve a budget, they approve a policy and they determine who’s the superintendent.

Q: Can you elaborate?

A: … The most important things that happen in our school division is the relationship and the work between teachers and students.

What I thought that we had this body out there that’s directing things and realized that the role of the school board is to provide the resources necessary in order to make that fundamental thing happens which is the relationship and the work between teachers and students.

I left the school board because my family moved out of town. By law, I couldn’t remain on the school board. But as I reflected as I got off of it, I was no longer on the school board anymore and then I realized I don’t have this connection with kids. My thoughts were not, “Let me go run for Albemarle County School Board. I’ll be able to run back into working with kids because I need to get as close as I can with that relationship between teacher and students.” This place, Walker, felt like that the right place to be.

Q: Christa Bennett, a parent, stepped in to oversee the Walker Playground project. What are your thoughts? 

A: It makes me feel awesome. Even when I was on the school board, Bennett used to come to the school board meetings. She’s a strong advocate for play in school. When I came to the Walker role, she was one of the parents who came forward and said, “Hey we [have] to do something about recess, about play. What can we do about it?”

And the initial conversations were, “What can we do?” A playground is a big thing to build and grow and start in school. The Walker and Buford Parent Teacher organizations merged into Walker-Buford United. And that has been a real shift in the way that we interact with parents and the way that the PTOs work.

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Hastings said there has been an absence of parental involvement in our schools over the years.

Credit: Billy Jean Louis/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Bennett was really able to champion [the project] and say, “We got some exciting things going on at Walker.” The fact that she went after it as a professional grant writer was awesome.

Q: Walker has been an elementary school for three decades. Was this school set up to not have a playground?

A: That’s something I don’t know. I guess we could go back to the old School Board minutes from years ago. The reality is this place wasn’t built with a playground, and we haven’t had one. I’m not sure why one was not put here. But it’s clear that we need one. Our kids have been asking for it.

Q: I learned that the school didn’t have a playground because of a lack of money. Can you comment? 

A: I didn’t have money in our operating budget. When you think about our instructional supplies in this building that are $105,000, a playground that’s going to cost between $150 [thousand] to $200,000 was not in our budget. We certainly didn’t have the money locally.

Q: Is it interesting that schools like Jackson-Via and Burnley-Moran elementary schools have multiple playgrounds, but Walker doesn’t have one?

A: I’m a human being, so I look around and I see other schools with playgrounds. Is it because we have so much turnover in school leadership here? Is it because that Walker has been slated for years for reconfiguration? It’s easy to kind of get mixed in why not?

As long as we keep looking at why we don’t have it, it does not help. I didn’t work here. Frankly, I did not know [why] the decisions were made. But I know my job as a principal is to be as the caretaker of this place, as it is to anything else. And right now, I run an elementary school that does not have a playground. That does not feel very good.

If we think of this as a fifth- through eighth-grade program, we can see a greater parent involvement. We've already seen an increase in parents’ involvement in PTO meetings participation.

Adam Hastings Walker Upper Elementary School Principal

Q: People have said one of the reasons the other schools have more playgrounds and Walker doesn’t is because there are more parents advocating for more resources. What are your thoughts? 

A: A different way to look at it is we have these neighborhood elementary schools that are wonderful. They’re community embedded. Parents are there from Pre-K all the way through fourth-grade. They know their teachers. They’re small. They have maybe two or three fourth-grade classes. I have fourteen fifth-grade classes here.

When you look at the size and scale difference, most parents, I would say by the time you’re fourth grade at these elementary schools, you can walk in. The staff knows your name. The teachers know your name. You’ve been in the building.

Q: What about Walker? 

A: To take that and come to Walker, and you only know that you’re here for two years, they’re never here for a long time. And frankly, we haven’t conceived Walker and Buford Middle as a four-year experience. We’ve historically thought of students at Walker and then Buford. They just have to go through these two transitions. And then land at the high school.

And then we can take a deep breath. So, the work that started last year with the former principal of Buford, the work that’s carried on right now with me and Dr. Jesse Turner is looking at Walker and Buford as a four-year experience, a fifth- through eighth-grade program.

If we think of this as a fifth- through eighth-grade program, we can see a greater parent involvement. We’ve already seen an increase in parents’ involvement in PTO meetings participation.

I do think we've had an absence of parental involvement in our schools over the years. And I think that is reflected likely in the level of advocacy parents are able to provide. If you don't feel connected to the school, how can you advocate on it? I'm a caretaker of my facilities, and I'm a caretaker of parental involvement.

Adam Hastings Walker Upper Elementary School Principal

Q: So, there was a lack of parental involvement? 

A: I do think we’ve had an absence of parental involvement in our schools over the years. And I think that is reflected likely in the level of advocacy parents are able to provide. If you don’t feel connected to the school, how can you advocate on it? I’m a caretaker of my facilities, and I’m a caretaker of parental involvement.

I have to be honest about what’s happening in our building. I’ve got to be able to say, “Here’s where we’ve been successful. And here’s where we’re not being successful. Here’s where we need your help.”

Q: You mentioned the reconfiguration. How involved are you in it? 

A: It’s happening in stages. I’m definitely not the mastermind of reconfiguration. I’m one of the Walker voices at the table. So, I’ve been in the initial conversations when [there are questions] on the types of things that must be included in the request of proposal.

From a principal’s perspective, if we’re going to ask people to come in and make a proposal with the what the future might be, what are the things that you’d like to see in the future?

So, we’re giving the opportunity as principals to speak on behalf of our kids and the community, and then, I think, as the stages go on, there will be teams.

Q: The reconfiguration is supposed to help with fewer transitions. Why is it important for students to have fewer transitions? 

A: I don’t know if it’s about fewer transitions, even though that’s what we’ve talked about because when we think about reconfiguring, we think, “Oh, we’ll have fewer changes.” I think it’s about greater consistency.

We’re in a building right now where I have kids who come up in a grade. My teachers need to meet all the new students. Get to know their needs, strengths and not have them as strangers. That’s tough to do when they’re here this year and are gone next year.

I'm committed to this job in ways that are almost impossible to articulate. I love what I do. But I have a family. My kids and my wife are going to be what I decide to do. I'm committed to Charlottesville. We chose to be here. I'm going to focus on making this place awesome, and whatever happens, happens.

Adam Hastings Walker Upper Elementary School Principal

By increasing that amount of time, they get to know our staff, including our reading people and gifted teachers. All these things are made easier with few transitions. It will be a sad day when Walker closes. But what a real opportunity to make our community a better place.

Q: Have you thought about where you’re going after the reconfiguration? 

A: No, I don’t know. I have no idea. I have a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old. If you’d asked me in my 20s, I would’ve said superintendent or secretary of education.

Now that I’m not in my 20s anymore, I’m at a point in my life where I measure time in my life with my own children, and I know that I have 14 more years until my sweet little princess is off being an adult. And I have 17 years until my son becomes an adult. I adore what I do for a living.

I’m committed to this job in ways that are almost impossible to articulate. I love what I do. But I have a family. My kids and my wife are going to be what I decide to do. I’m committed to Charlottesville. We chose to be here. I’m going to focus on making this place awesome, and whatever happens, happens.

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Hastings said he adores working with children.

Credit: Billy Jean Louis/Charlottesville Tomorrow