By William Croyle
FORT WRIGHT - The school year started less than a month ago, but lessons from Fort Wright Elementary School Principal Margaret Hoffman have already made an impact.
"She tells us every day that if you want to have a good day, the choice is yours. If you want to have a bad day, the choice is yours," said first-grader Garrett Jones. "She's really nice and a good principal."
So good that she has been named the 2003 National Distinguished Principal for Kentucky. She was honored in a surprise ceremony at her school Friday and will be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and National Association of Elementary School Principals Nov. 6 and 7 in Washington, D.C.
The Walton resident has been in education for 35 years - 18 as a teacher at St. Pius X and Caywood Elementary, and the last 17 in her current post.
"I was in her school years ago and was impressed with her programs back then," said Walton-Verona Elementary School Principal Tom Williams, who nominated Hoffman for the award that he won in 2001. He noted the school always has ranked high.
In the last decade, the school has been five for five in exceeding the state-set goal on accountability tests. The attendance rate is at 97 percent.
"I'm honored that he thinks our school is so good and that I deserve this award," Hoffman said of Williams. "I just want all children in this school to receive a good education and enjoy learning."
Ten were nominated for the award. The group was narrowed to four. Then a six-member committee of statewide principals visited the four schools and interviewed children, teachers and parents.
When it came time to vote, the decision was unanimous.
Hoffman is most proud of three programs she put in place: the Golden Work Ethic Award, given three times a year to worthy students; the Student Assistance Team, where teachers make referrals for students who need academic or emotional help; and Principles of Learning Walk-Through, where staff observe students in a class, asking them questions and offering suggestions to the teacher.
"She is such a strong institutional leader and has truly dedicated her life to her school," said Kenton County Superintendent Susan Cook.
Her biggest supporter may be her sister, Rosemary Hoffman, a guidance counselor at Piner Elementary School who won the state's Outstanding Elementary School Counselor award last year.
The sisters have a combined 72 years worth of experience in education.
"I'm not surprised she won," said Rosemary. "She's worked very, very hard over the years and has a great program in place."
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