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Hovatter Opens with a Sense of History
You can’t say Hovatter Elementary doesn’t have a sense of history.
A time capsule, set to be opened in 2046 is right in the front of the school.
Principal Lori Mercer and her staff discovered the granite marker for the time capsule while setting up procedures for the dismissal of students. Mercer said she doesn’t know how it got there, but that she’ll put it to good use.
She adds there are a lot of things people will want to know about Hovatter’s opening 25 years from now.
Mercer started the 2020-21 school year as the principal of Belmont Station Elementary before switching her focus to opening Hovatter on January 21. “Nothing comes close to a year like last year. We had to be really intentional about staying connected, recognizing that all families were experiencing this differently. There were certainly some students who thrived in a virtual-learning environment and some who were having challenges with it.”
Mercer said she reached out to Belmont Station’s families to let them know that they were supported and walked many of them through challenging situations.
When she started readying Hovatter for this school year, Mercer had to do everything – hiring, meeting parents, planning and keeping up with the school’s construction – virtually. She said she learned the tricks to engage people online. “You have to be able to show your energy, your excitement, enthusiasm and communicate your message of what Hovatter is going to be about. You have to use your voice and facial expressions in sharing your excitement. You have to let your personality, drive and passion show.”
“People have to feel they’re making connections.”
Mercer had some definite attributes in mind when hiring teachers: “passion, love of kids, energy, excitement.“
“The first thing is ‘Do you love what you do?’ ‘Are you all about kids.’ You have to hear that they put kids first.” (Mercer hired 70 teachers and a total of more than 100 staff to serve an expected student population of 1,055.) Hovatter will have a mix of teaching experience, ranging from teachers who taught with Mercer at Cool Spring Elementary at the start of her career to five new teachers. Mercer said the new teachers had the unique experience of doing their student teaching online and are enthusiastic about getting into a classroom with students.
Hovatter will be drawing its students from Buffalo Trail and Goshen Post elementary schools. Mercer said she’s told staff that their first priority will be getting to know their students. “We’ve talked a lot about prioritizing connections first. We have to get to know our students. We have to get to know about them. We have to build a classroom community first and a school community. Connections before content, starting day one.”
Mercer doesn’t think her staff will be hampered by wearing masks when it comes to making connections. “It’s about the words you choose, your expressions, your demeanor, letting kids know they have a safe and supportive environment. That’s setting the foundation for them to learn.”
This is Mercer’s 28th year with Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS). She took part in the opening of three prior schools; Little River Elementary as a teacher and Hutchison Farm and Belmont Station elementary schools as an assistant principal. Mercer served as Belmont Station’s assistant principal for eight years before a nine-year tenure as its principal. “It was not an easy decision to leave a school where I had been for so long; connected with the community and the students. One of my professional goals was to open a new school as a principal.”
Being the primary administrator for everything concerning a new school was a different experience from her previous openings, Mercer added. “You have to decide where the paper clips are going, and you have to make decisions where students are going. You’re responsible for everything.
“Anything that’s going to impact kids.”
More importantly, Mercer said she wanted to build a positive school culture for Hovatter. “Making sure people want to be here, are excited to be here.”
Hovatter will be the Honey Bees and Mercer has been dubbed the “Queen Bee.” Despite all the challenges that will be stored in the time capsule, Mercer feels good about where her school is as its first opening day approaches.
“I love what I do. I definitely made the right choice when I decided to go into education.”
Mercer said her enthusiasm spiked when she welcomed staff back on August 18. “When everyone came back, their energy matched mine. To hear teachers and staff laughing and connecting and being so eager is more than I ever imagined.
“That’s how you stay enthusiastic. You surround yourself with people who are like-minded; they’re all about the kids.”