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Superintendent/Principal Wynette Hilton is known for making her students and staff feel like family.
Hilton thinks creatively to serve school ‘family’
July 25, 2022
ACSA Administrators of the Year graphic.
Name: Wynette Hilton Award: Superintendent/Principal of the Year Title: Superintendent/Principal School: Big Oak Flat Groveland Unified School District/Tenaya Elementary School ACSA highlights: member since 2014; Secretary, Tuolumne County Association of California School Administrators (2017-present); Co-Director of Programs (2021-present).
When things get stressful, Wynette Hilton likes to bake.
Needless to say, she did a lot of baking during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the superintendent of Big Oak Flat Groveland USD and principal of Tenaya Elementary, Hilton has been responsible for the continued learning and safety of “her kids.” During distance learning, she ordered Chromebooks and found hotspots for families who lacked internet access. As students returned to school, Hilton ensured everyone was informed of the latest COVID protocols and schools were fully stocked with health supplies.
Known for creating a family feel across the district, Hilton is always willing to stop and talk to students and staff. She even wrote personal notes to each employee last Christmas. Having worked her way up from a preschool teacher in the district to now serving as its superintendent, Hilton is more than willing to provide advice and support to others wishing to advance their careers.
Hilton has been creative and bold to ensure students in this remote community have everything they need to be successful. Her efforts have included giving high school students access to online college courses, carving out money in the budget for an additional crisis counselor, and providing training for teachers to implement new technologies in the classroom.
“Wynette has not rested on past successes and is always searching for new ways to improve and offer solutions,” said Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Cathy Parker. “She creates a culture of inclusivity and collaboration. She pushed BOFG to become even better.”
What’s your favorite quote on leadership?
When I was in my credential program, I read an article about “leading with humility.” This really registered with me and has been my mantra in administration.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? “Don’t make hallway decisions.” As a new principal, I did not know the power of this advice. However, after nine years in administration, I have found this gives me time to think before acting.
What’s your best strategy for work/life balance? I make time every evening to decompress by either reading for pleasure, watching light entertainment, or visiting with friends. In times of high stress, I bake. During the COVID shutdown, I got to bake almost 100 loaves of bread for family and staff.
What are some life hacks that you would recommend for a new administrator? Planning ahead has been really helpful in my administrative career. Every Sunday, I select my clothes for the week, plan my meals, and review my calendar so I am especially prepared for late night events.
What would people be surprised to learn about you? I am slow to “warm-up” to large groups of people or new situations; it takes me a while to reach my comfort zone before I can fully participate. However, I never have this problem around children.
What made you want to become a school administrator? After working with five different administrators in seven years, I realized why they were not successful — they did not have “buy in” to our community. I felt that my strong ties to the community helped me understand the needs of our students and families; this motivated me to pursue an administrative credential.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to get where you are? I was widowed at 40 with two sons in fourth and seventh grades. I had started my teaching credential program in December of 2003 when my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. I wanted to postpone my program, but he insisted I stay enrolled as I would need a steady income, should something happen to him with his illness. He died the following month from surgery complications. It was difficult, but with the support of my family and friends, I completed my credential program in May of 2005.
What is your proudest accomplishment? Raising two kind, compassionate, hardworking and productive sons, on my own, in their formative years. My oldest, Billy, is a science teacher for Pleasanton Unified and my youngest, Jonathon, is a sales representative for Building Enclosure Solutions in the Sacramento area.
How has ACSA supported you in your career/current position? ACSA does an excellent job of condensing communication regarding new legislation, budget information and the ever-changing COVID protocol. ACSA has also enabled me to make connections with my colleagues, especially in my region.
What new strategies are you using to ensure student success in the post-“return to school” period? The strategies I am using to ensure student success as they return to school are not necessarily new, but reinforced older, established strategies. We are a small rural school district, with a poverty rate of 55 percent. I have a strong belief that students cannot reach academic achievement unless their basic needs are met. I work with community organizations to provide snacks, school supplies, backpacks, clothing and shoes for students in need.
2022 Superintendent/Principal of the Year Wynette Hilton.
2022 Superintendent/Principal of the Year Wynette Hilton.