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Empowering Women and Supporting Struggling Families are the Heart of this School Leader’s Work

Kelsey Pardue  |  June 17, 2020
This is our sixth installment in the “What is a DSQ?” blog series.
 
From a young woman who didn’t fully understand big dreams were possible, to now serving in a leadership position at National Heritage Academies (NHA), Lori Hill holds a passion in her heart for instilling the possibility of big dreams in the students and staff she leads.
 
Working her way up, Hill has served in various roles at NHA. From teaching for 10 years, serving as assistant principal and principal, she has now found herself in the DSQ role for the past eight years.

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“What was so awesome about being teacher, assistant principal, and principal prior to entering my DSQ role was that I knew a lot about the organization,” Hill shared. She never thought or dreamed of becoming principal, let alone DSQ. “People along the way saw things in me that I didn’t necessarily see, and nudged me into leadership roles.”
 
When a previous mentor and boss at NHA asked Hill if she wanted to be a DSQ, her jaw dropped. “I wasn’t conditioned to see such big possibilities,” she shared.
 
Hill was raised by a single mom most of her life and shared that when you don’t have a lot, you don’t know that you can have big dreams. That has played into her passion and commitment to working with families that are struggling outside of the school building.
 
“I have the most satisfaction in working with schools that have higher poverty numbers because I can relate to single moms and struggling parents because I watched it as a child,” explained Hill. “Not all educators can necessarily understand the struggles and challenges on a personal level.”
 
For Hill, education is the absolute key to getting out of poverty. She recalls sitting down with her mom and talking about going to college. Together they said, “We’ll find a way. We’ll figure it out.” Reflecting on that experience, Hill finds it crucial to ensure students leave an NHA school in eighth grade prepared to get on an advanced track in high school. “Our job is to get them ready for educational opportunities beyond high school. We have to get them ready for that turning point.”
 
Alongside her passion for working with families outside of the building, Hill has a hunger for cultivating teamwork. She sees more and more that helping school leaders build strong teams throughout their building makes a huge difference in the success of the school. “A strong grade-level team will wrap its arms around their kids and take learning personally,” she said. “Teachers expect that students will learn and grow, and the teacher will go beyond expectations to ensure that.”
 
However, the teamwork extends much further than the school walls. When Hill reflects on what the NHA difference is, the parental partnership pillar shines brightly. Hill makes clear that when you have a student who is struggling, it should become a personal mission for educators to find out why and put support in place. “It’s about teamwork between the school and home. A large portion of student success is hinged on relationships and teamwork between the teacher, school leader, student, and parent,” said Hill.
 
When working with families who may be struggling outside of the school building, she finds that partnerships sometimes have to be designed differently. “It might mean, ‘Parent, you get them here on time and in uniform, and I’ll take it from there.’ Sometimes parent partnerships are different,” Hill said.
 
At NHA, we strive to hire leaders and teachers that make relationships an important piece of a child’s education, reflected Hill. “We know that our parents are choosing us. They want the best education for their child and so they seek us out as a better choice,” she said. “That comes with a big responsibility for us. Teachers need to see our students as our students, not just another person’s child. That is one of the key drivers that differentiates us, seeing students as our students.”
 
When thinking back to the days she used to spend as a teacher and school leader, Hill misses having daily close connections with students. She finds joy in visiting the schools she supports and talking with the kids. “I want to be a role model for young girls to see women in leadership,” she said.
 
Hill reflects on one interaction she had with a student who didn’t know who she was during a school visit. He asked Hill, “Are you the principal’s wife?”, to which she responded, “No, I’m the principal’s boss.” Hill explained that the look on his face was a bit surprised and he thought for a minute and said, “You’re kind of like the queen then.” For her, those un-filtered moments are the fun parts of working in education. “Kids are amazing and funny and smart.”
 
Hill shared that her mom has been such a strong female role model and hopes girls see that there are leadership roles and opportunities out there that they can aspire to become.
 
Stay tuned on July 15 for the next installment of our DSQ blog series when we introduce you to Amy Ebling, an NHA leader who strives to make a difference in children’s’ lives by believing in them and showing them what’s possible.