Parents cheer appointment of Hodge as Irving principal

? Support of parents and teachers was instrumental in recommendation to maintain Hodge, Fagan says.

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By DREW CARTER

When they thought middle school principal positions might be opening at the end of the year, parents at Irving Elementary School worried that their interim principal, John Hodge, would be assigned to a larger school.

"You're so afraid it's going to get pulled out from under you," said Kathy Paoli, an Irving substitute teacher and parent of three kids who either are or were students there.

Instead, the expected appointment of Hodge as permanent Irving principal at tonight's District 97 Board of Education meeting would represent the continuation of a school-building effort called for and largely involving parents, as well as the culmination of a specific effort to keep the former-teacher-turned-principal they helped identify for the interim position.

The school's turnaround began in January 1999 with the appointment of Felicia Starks Turner as principal and the addition of district resources that a school improvement team identified the need for.

But when district finances took a downturn in 2002-03, the board cut teaching positions and other resources from elementary schools. And then the district tapped Starks Turner as its new human resources director. Some parents worried that the progress they'd made would fade.

That hasn't been the case, parents say, thanks in part to Hodge, who they dub a "strong leader" and "very good communicator" who has "reached out to all parents."

Hodge, like Starks Turner, was just what the school needed at just the right time, said Camille Baxter, who'll likely be the Irving PTO co-president next fall. Hodge was made interim principal a year ago when Starks Turner moved to the district's central office.

Baxter and others said that Hodge, though he knew the decision was not ultimately his, came into the position not as an interim, but with the intent to stay long-term.

Hodge did not want to comment on the appointment until it has been made official tonight. The agenda calls for appointing him to a three-year contract with a starting salary of $94,562.

Leading the call for Hodge's appointment were Paoli and husband Dave. Working with other parents, they crafted a basic letter asking the district to appoint Hodge. Then they emailed the letter to every parent on the school's listserv.

"I don't think anybody had anything bad to say about him," Dave Paoli said.

Fagan said more than 20 letters were recieved in support of Hodge. "That wasn't the important thing," Fagan said, which was that both the Irving PTO and the teachers' association asked for his appointment.

In a parent-led effort to replace pavement for green space on the school's playground, Hodge reached out to parents, activated the right procedures at the central office and kept parents appraised of the situation throughout.

"He's done a lot of that," Dave Paoli said.

When a full-time teacher's daughter died tragically in southern Illinois, Kathy Paoli filled in during her seven-week absence. Hodge helped everyone cope then, she said.

"He was a presence," she said, adding that he was not a stranger to her third-floor classroom. "You just knew that you weren't up there alone."

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