Sweetwater Elementary School Principal Tamara Hopkins was inspired by her own second-grade teacher to become an educator.
Sweetwater Elementary School Principal Tamara Hopkins was recognized as the 2019 Elementary Principal of the Year for Volusia County by the Volusia County School District and the FUTURES Foundation, which offers matching grants to schools for new technology or tutoring programs.
Hopkins began her teaching career as a second-grade teacher in Marion County in 1982 after receiving her elementary education degree from Indiana University. She also received her Master's degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida. After she became an assistant principal in Marion County, Hopkins helped open the Villages Charter School. In 2005, she moved to the Volusia County School District and became an elementary school principal.
Hopkins recently spoke with the Port Orange Observer about her career, and why she's passionate about her job.
Q: Have you always worked with elementary age children?
No. I worked in elementary all of my career at Marion County but when I moved over to the Villages, I started out as the elementary principal because that was the only school we had open. But then the following year, they opened the middle school and I went to the middle school as the principal and then I was their executive director for two years over all of the facilities that they were building there.
And then when I moved here, to Volusia County, then I was an assistant principal at Hinson [Middle School] — I helped open that — then I was a middle school assistant principal at Creekside, assistant principal at Deltona High School, and then I came to Sweetwater Elementary as a principal.
Q: What age group do you like working with the best?
I prefer elementary. When Volusia County asked me what was my preference when they were getting ready to name me as a principal, I told them that I started in elementary and I wanted to finish my career in elementary.
Q: What made you decide to get into administrative work instead of continuing with teaching?
It felt like I could have input into what was going on at a school for its entirety, not just within my classroom. Although I enjoyed every moment of working with children individually within my classroom, I just really wanted to be a part of the bigger picture of what was going on within the whole school and help change the quality of education in every classroom.
I feel very blessed that I chose education as my career. I’ve never had a day that I didn’t want to come to work. I love what I do, and I owe that to my own second-grade teacher because she instilled in me a love of learning, and once I went through her class, I wanted to be a teacher. There was never another career for me. I always knew I wanted to be in education.
I love working with children, I love working with their parents, and I love working with teachers. I am very fortunate here at Sweetwater because I have a lot of teachers who truly could be leaders but they still want to be in the classroom. It’s amazing.
Q: You were awarded Volusia County Elementary Principal of the Year. How does it make you feel to get that recognition?
Humbled, because there are a lot hardworking principals across this District who are very dynamic, so it was an honor to be chosen among those principals and to be recognized for the effort that you do put out in your own personal school with your teachers and your students.
Q: What would you say the most rewarding part of being principal for Sweetwater Elementary would be?
The students — being able to share in their successes and see them do so well, and then being a part of some amazing educators and being on their team and working with them every day.