St. John names principals of the year

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 8, 2011

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE – A good principal must be a juggler of sorts. He or she must be the face of a school while simultaneously dealing with matters as diverse as budgets, instruction, discipline and public perception, all the while remaining calm and poised.

Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School Principal Margaret “Peggy” Hastings does all of that and more, so her being chosen as the St. John the Baptist Parish Public School District’s middle school principal of the year should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with her.

The West Virginia native, who spent much of her life in Ohio, finally landed in St. John Parish in the mid ‘70s at the urging of her husband.

“He always talked about Louisiana,” Hastings said. “He loved this area.”

Still, it would be nearly a decade before Hastings would realize her true calling and enter the world of education.

Originally pursuing a career in nursing, Hastings only started on her current career path after realizing she did not have the stomach for nursing.

“I did not realize that I was being directed toward education,” she said.

But as the daughter of a teacher, Hastings found the direction a natural fit.

“To be able to teach and reach out to kids, I have a love for that,” Hastings said.

She spent eight years as a teacher in both St. Charles and St. John parishes before being tapped for her administrative skills.

In April 2003 she joined Lake Pontchartrain Elementary, or the Glade as it was then known, as assistant principal. A few years later she was named principal of the school.

Hastings said that although she sometimes misses her days as a classroom teacher, her current position suits her.

“I like just being in the mix of everything,” she said. “I like knowing what’s going on.”

In that statement she touched upon one of her core beliefs as an administrator — that success is not the product of a single individual but rather of a cohesive mix of personalities.

“I like the way the school is moving forward,” said Hastings before adding, “It’s not just me. It’s the whole group at my school.”

Hastings recognizes that a large part of her job is not merely to run things but to use everyone on her staff so they realize their full potential.

“Nobody’s cloned here. We’re all very different,” she said. “I have a respect for my workers. I see the value that each one has.”

She said that by pushing her staff to fully realize talents they may not have even known they possessed, that in turn pushes her students to new heights.

And the heights to which her students have soared is quite impressive. Over the past three years, Lake Pontchartrain Elementary’s School Performance Score has increased by more than 23 points. Much of that growth can be credited to programs such as SuccessMaker, which Hastings brought to the school last year.

Bringing about growth in this time of budget constraints can be a tall order, but Hastings has not let the success go to her head. In fact, keeping grounded has been one of the keys.

She said of her teachers, “My heart goes out to them. It’s very important for an administrator to remember what it feels like.”

For this reason, Hastings has an open-door policy.

“You’ve got to have somebody to listen to you,” she said.

The spirit of unity that she has helped create at the school, in turn, gets passed on to the students.

“I think it’s very comforting for the children,” she said.

That sense of unity does not stop at the school grounds either. She said parents have been a large part of the school’s success.

“My parent’s want what’s best for the kids,” she said. “We’re partners with them.”

When all of these factors are combined, it is like a great recipe coming together to make a delicious dish.

“It’s all of it,” she said. “It’s not one little thing.”