By Meagan Clements
Author Maya Angelou once said, “when you know better, you do better.”
Evelyn Garcia is more than just the principal of Hopkinson Elementary School within Los Alamitos Unified School District.
Awarded Administrator of the Year, Garcia takes to heart the acclaimed author’s words of wisdom, hoping that faculty, staff and students alike understand that she is proud of the past, living in the present and looking optimistically toward the future.
“I don’t feel there is ever a danger in looking at the past. [What] Angelou said, I genuinely believe that. I don’t feel guilty for something that I have previously done,” Garcia said. “Are there times when I look back and now with my current knowledge think, ‘oh, if I would have known then what I know now, I would have done this differently?’ Absolutely. But I think that there’s a power to that because that helps us grow as a human being.”
Garcia understands that changes resulting from the coronavirus pandemic have globally impacted the education industry. She reflects on the importance of setting guilt aside in an effort to best serve the needs of students, faculty and staff.
“It’s sad to think that we would feel guilt when we were doing the best that we could. If you’re doing your best, there should be a sense of pride in that and there should be hope in moving toward, ‘okay, well now I know better so I’m going to do better,’” Garcia said.
Garcia has been described as caring, compassionate and hardworking. A belief in lifelong learning allows her to maximize skills, serving the needs of others to the best of her ability.
“Hard work is probably the thing I pride myself the most in. It’s truly in everything that I do,” Garcia said.
Dr. Andrew Pulver, superintendent for Los Alamitos Unified School District agreed, noting, during a board meeting this month, Garcia’s ability to provide opportunities which ensure the success of students, faculty and staff.
“Evelyn is one who just continues to innovate, to collaborate and to provide unlimited opportunities for all of our students,” Pulver said. “She really embraces all staff, all students, and parents and she just is one of their biggest advocates.”
Pulver agrees that Garcia’s efforts must not go unnoticed. Her heart and soul exude volumes about her vision to create a better, stronger education for all.
“Evelyn is certainly one of those who is all in, all the time literally,” Pulver said.
Pulver shared insight into the bond Garcia creates with students and their families. Her genuine gratitude speaks from within as she molds memories through simple actions such as smiling or speaking kind words to those in need.
“She goes above and beyond to really connect with her families,” Pulver said.
Pulver spoke on behalf of Garcia’s love for the community at large. Her giving nature affords opportunities for sharing the knowledge gained throughout her career.
“One of the things that I love that Evelyn continues to share with our other principals as well is recognizing how important the community is to the schools,” Pulver said.
Garcia outlines the steps Hopkinson Elementary School has taken to ensure a successful transition into learning during a pandemic.
“We have all taken the entire school community under our wing and have helped in any way possible,” Garcia said. “Everyone from myself to our teachers, our instructional assistants, even our cafeteria support came in and made sure that every student that needed a device had one at hand that very first week in order to launch our virtual instruction.”
Despite obvious differences compared to learning pre-pandemic, Garcia remains hopeful that joy will outlast the hardships. She doesn’t take anything for granted, counting her blessings as often as she can.
“Things that we took for granted like dismissal and arrival of the kids, all of the things that were very mundane, that we were complacent about in the past, we savor those moments, I savor those moments,” Garcia said.
Lisa Pahl, mother of 4th grader Allison Pahl, is an active volunteer at Hopkinson Elementary School. Pahl commended Garcia’s level-headed, calm demeanor, noting that it was helpful in ensuring student success despite the difficult nature of the pandemic.
“These little kids are at such a tender, impressionable age and at a point where, especially during a pandemic like this, they need to feel that sense of normalcy,” Pahl said. “I think she’s doing everything in her power to make these kids — although they’re only at school for two-and-a-half hours a day — feel like it’s any other normal day at the school.’”
Even as a student, Garcia recalls that her passion for teaching was undeniable.
Garcia received two bachelor’s degrees from UC Irvine, one in criminology, the other in psychology, with a minor in education. She received her teaching credential from Cal State LA and an administrative service credential as well as a master’s degree from National University.
“When I was in college and I had the opportunity to get a part-time job, I worked at one of the schools close to my university,” Garcia recalled. “I just realized that it came very natural for me. Spending time with children has never felt laborious, or hard or difficult. It is just something that I genuinely enjoy.”
Garcia plays a pivotal role in the Special Education Advisory Council within the Los Alamitos Unified School District.
“We are making sure that equity and access is something that we work on regularly,” Garcia said.
Garcia celebrates six years as principal of Hopkinson Elementary School this year but is quick to point out that there will always be a soft spot in her heart for teaching.
“I am a teacher through and through. Although I don’t have my own class of 24 or 36 kids, I still engage in teaching. Monthly, I host ‘A Time with Mrs. Garcia’ where I open up a zoom and I open it up to all the kids here at Hopkinson,” Garcia said. “They come on and I have different activities with them. I still engage with children because that’s where my passion is.”
Garcia has worked as the program director for the Los Alamitos Education Foundation (LAEF) and taught a multitude of grades throughout her career as an educator, but surprisingly, doesn’t have a favorite.
“I find different joy depending on the age range,” Garcia said.
As far as the most overrated quality in an educator or administrator, Garcia doesn’t believe there is one.
“I don’t think there are any overrated qualities. I think that teachers are rock stars, they’re heroes, they deserve everything,” Garcia said. “I think that no rating is too extraordinary for people that commit their lives to our future, which is our children.”
Garcia does however believe that there is an underrated quality.
“Some people think that teachers only work during the hours that kids are on campus and during the days that kids are on campus,” Garcia said. “The tireless work that goes into prepping and planning can be underrated by some, definitely the planning and the heart and the time that goes into this profession and the fact that you never put it down.”
Garcia humbly admits that everything she’s able to give, she’s able to give because of an incredible team supporting her every step of the way.
“I never can take sole credit for any award or any experience. It really is all a tribute to the great Los Alamitos team, and I would love that reflected,” Garcia said. “My colleagues are second to none. All the principals are deserving of the same award. I learn from each of them and I grow with and alongside them.”
Garcia carries forth an attitude, reflecting the light within each and every one of the students, faculty, and staff at Hopkinson Elementary School.
“We all just really carry each other. I am so blessed to work for and with amazing educators – [everyone] from my colleagues to my team here at Hopkinson,” Garcia said.
“I couldn’t be in a better place. I count my blessings every day.”
Off-duty, Garcia enjoys spending time with her husband and children, reading, watching movies, hiking and exploring new beaches.
“It’s something that we love doing together as a family,” Garcia said.
In the future, Garcia hopes to continue working in education, doing what’s best for kids and keeping herself grounded.
Indeed, Garcia embodies Angelou’s articulation, “when you know better, you do better.” Garcia’s humility allows her to recognize the need for growth, embrace a changing future within the education industry and connect on a deeper level with the many faces she encounters daily.