When Ginger Stanford threw her graduation cap in the air and earned her high school diploma from Hawthorne High School in 1991, she knew she would come back to her high school after college.
But she didn’t envision herself being the principal.
Stanford’s family has lived in Hawthorne for five generations. Her aunts, uncles and father all went to the school, and she followed suit. The teachers she had during her time there is the reason why she wanted to study education in college, she said.
“I had amazing teachers that helped me see what you could do to benefit students,” she said. “I wanted to give a chance to every student to have a chance to learn and to love learning.”
Stanford, 48, fell in love with teaching during her 16 years as an elementary and middle school science and math teacher. Watching her students wonder how the world worked around them made her tick, Stanford said.
When Shane Andrew, the superintendent of Alachua County public schools, selected her to be the new principal, she was ecstatic.
“It is a true honor to have an opportunity to come back to the school that I have a little bit of history with and help see where we can grow,” she said.
She was previously assistant principal at Chester Shell Elementary, Westwood Middle School and Kanapaha Middle School.
Her roles at those schools included specializing in professional development with the teachers. She helped teachers work on their skills, such as classroom engagement and handling behavioral issues. She was an assistant principal for 10 years, which helped her develop the skills needed to be a principal, she said.
She got her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of North Florida and completed her master’s at the University of Florida in gifted education with a focus on students who have special education needs.
Hawthorne Middle/High School is one of the smallest schools in Alachua County with just under 500 students ranging from sixth through 12th grade.
In 2018, the school faced closure because it received a D letter grade from the state three years in a row. After receiving a passing grade of C for the 2017-2018 school year in September 2018, the school remained open. It has received a C for the past three years except in 2021 and 2020 when schools did not receive grades because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the Florida Department of Education.
To keep improving the letter grade of the school, Stanford said she thinks it’s important to set aside time to talk to students and teachers. She wants to make sure she has time to visit classrooms and watch what the teachers are doing. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes, it’s important to get the chance to see what is going on so she can support the teachers and answer questions parents may have, she said.
Matthew Surrency, a city commissioner, is a lifelong resident of Hawthorne and has a son who attends the school and another son who will attend after he completes elementary school.
Surrency, 42, said Stanford has ties to the physical building and the families who attend the school, which is important because Hawthorne is a small, close-knit community.
“Having someone that is familiar with that and has lived with many of the people that now have kids going there brings a sincere approach to caring for the school,” he said.
Surrency coached baseball at the high school for several years and said he is very familiar with what is needed there.
The biggest issue is motivating students to go to school and having parents realize the importance of making sure their child is going to school, he said.
Stanford can fix this because she can identify with the students since she is from the area, he said. She knows many of the parents personally, so when she talks to them it means more, Surrency said.
Jackie Johnson, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education, said Superintendent Shane Andrew picked Stanford for the job because of her experience at a variety of schools.
Stanford was a curriculum resource teacher, an interim principal and an assistant principal and has worked to develop programs that benefit students, families and staff, including engagement programs for students interested in science and technology, Johnson said.
“She really has the depth and breadth of experience and a familiarity with the community that makes her a very good fit for this position,” she said.
One area Stanford hopes to improve at the school is the behavioral system.
The school needs to spend more time telling students their expectations and rewarding positive behavior, she said. In her first few days, she brought back a system called positive referrals that enables students to reward other students for an act that goes above and beyond, which could be an improvement in their test score or helping another student.
Stanford said she also wants to start having “data chats” with students. Hawthorne has a system that helps teachers and faculty track where students are and get diagnostic reports on how they are doing and what they are ready for.
These chats will help explain a student’s results to the student and parents to see how their child can improve.
“The ultimate goal is to take care of students and support their learning,” she said.