When Dallas ISD announced its principal of the year award, Preston Hollow resident Judy Zimny hoped she’d win. It wasn’t that she thought she was especially deserving.
“There are so many thousands of principals who could’ve gotten this award,” she says. “I know I’m not any better than they are.”
And it wasn’t that she thought she would finally get her due recognition for years of hard work.
“I don’t feel a lack of recognition at all,” she adds.
She wanted to win because she knew both the PTA and staff at L.L. Hotchkiss Elementary School had worked so hard on her submission as a candidate.
“In a way, I was relieved when I heard, because I knew they wouldn’t be disappointed.”
The fact that both groups nominated her, each unaware that the other was doing so, says a lot about why Zimny was chosen. Her ability to work well with all the groups involved with a school is why Jane Didear, communications specialist for the district, thinks she was chosen.
“She communicates very well with students and staff, and she also deals well with parents and the community around the school,” Didear says.
“I don’t think most people realize what a challenge it is to be a principal. It’s like being a CEO of a business, with budgeting and personnel issues, but also with parents and community to deal with. Many times, people may have strengths in one area or another, but Jane has a good balance in all of them.
Zimny has been principal at Hotchkiss for nine years, ever since the school was opened to relieve overcrowding at Preston Hollow and Kramer elementary schools. Being there for so long is what she says has helped her and her staff with their most important job: helping kids learn and reach their potential.
“We were able to get our systems and procedures in place and working, so we didn’t have to put as much energy into them. We had more left for higher impact issues.”
Those higher impact issues, she says, involve working with children, their parents and the community in dealing with challenging situations. “We deal with all kinds of issues at school, whether it’s behavior issues, health issues, all kinds of things.”
It’s all part of a role she says is much more than a job.
“You can’t really look at it as a job,” Zimny says. “You really have to look at it as a mission. It’s not just about raising test scores or keeping a safe school.
“When people start trusting you and perceive you as fair and caring, you have enormous potential to create social change in a community. Many parents look at schools for leadership in what to do with their kids and their own lives. You can greatly impact how they raise their kids.”
It’s all part of why Zimny believes so strongly in public education.
“I see the miracles that happen in it,” she says. “I see what teachers and others do with kids in school, and I stand back in total awe.”
She adds that an important factor in a school’s impact on its community is its partnerships with area businesses. Texas Instruments and Texas Health Resources and the Presbyterian Healthcare Foundation have worked closely with Hotchkiss to help its students succeed, both by providing grants for programs and establishing counseling and clinics for students.
“I don’t really see these groups as ‘the reason’ I got principal of the year, but they are very much a part of the reason for the school’s successes,” she says. “While they support us, we educate them about the realities and challenges and needs of public education.”
The new school year will be a time of change at Hotchkiss, with a new principal, Lea Beach, assigned to the school.
Zimny, meanwhile, will begin her first administrative assignment at a secondary school. She recently was named principal of Woodrow Wilson High School, which serves the Lakewood and East Dallas neighborhoods.
“The school has so many strengths to it, with strong parental involvement and longtime traditions,” she says. “There’s a lot to build on there. But it also has some pretty big challenges.”
She’s wasting no time in getting started in facing them.
“The first thing is to meet with parent and student groups and staff, to gather information and learn what they see as the barriers to students reaching the next level of success. And we’re already working. We’re getting stuff done.”
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