Before returning there as a special education teacher in October 2014, she attended Elmwood Elementary herself. She remained in District 401 for middle school and high school as well.
Thanks to Elmwood Park High School's dual credit program with Triton College, Ms. Hagins was able to graduate early from Northeastern Illinois University with a bachelor's degree in special education.
She later earned a master's degree from NEIU as a curriculum adaptation specialist, and she also received a special education director endorsement from National Louis University.
Just a few months ago, in early May, she graduated from Concordia University Chicago with her second advanced degree, an M.A. in educational administration.
Ms. Hagins has been a professional educator since 2010, when she began her career as a special education teacher at K.S. Kellogg Elementary, located in the North Beverly neighborhood of Chicago. She taught there from February 2010 to September 2014 before returning to Elmwood.
To learn more about Ms. Hagins, including her time as an Elmwood student and the journey back, District 401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca interviewed her via email.
The Q&A took place in May, before Ms. Hagins officially started her new job as assistant principal. An edited version of their exchange appears below.
Q: I understand that you’re from Elmwood Park and that you actually attended Elmwood Elementary School. Is that true?
A: I am very proud to say that I was born and raised in Elmwood Park. I attended Elmwood School in grades K-6 (we had kindergarten there at the time) and Elm Middle School and Elmwood Park High School. I have lived in the village for most of my life.
Q: What years did you attend Elmwood School?
Q: Are any of your former teachers still at the school?
A: Yes. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to work alongside many of my former teachers. It reminds me of why teachers are so important in the lives of our students.
Q: What are your some of your fondest memories of Elmwood School?
A: As a student at Elmwood School, I really enjoyed participating in special events, learning new things and creating projects. I loved doing projects in Mrs. Kirsch’s 4th-grade class. One time my friends and I made a life-sized buffalo. We used every brown crayon in the school! I loved how my teachers let me be creative and inspired me to always do my best!
Q: How would you compare what Elmwood was like when you were a student to what it’s like now? What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed?
A: Many things are still the same at Elmwood. The only difference is that I now teach many of the children of my former classmates. One of the biggest changes has been the new addition and many new faces.
Q: Just out of curiosity, when did you graduate from Elmwood Park High School? Had Mr. Jennings become the principal yet? [Note: Mr. James Jennings is now District 401’s assistant superintendent for finance & operations, a position he has held since July 2017. Mr. Douglas Wildes is now EPHS principal.]
A: I graduated in 2006, and yes, Mr. Jennings was my principal.
Q: You earned your bachelor’s degree in special education from Northeastern Illinois University. What motivated you to go into education in general and special education in particular?
A: I always knew I wanted to be an educator. However, when it came time to decide which area of education, I consulted with many of my teachers at EPHS, and I came to the conclusion that I wanted to go into special education. It appealed to me initially because I could work with kids of all ages in all subject areas. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Q: From your résumé it appears that you graduated early from Northeastern Illinois. If so, what inspired you to do that?
A: Yes, I was able to graduate from Northeastern Illinois University in 3½ years, mainly because my teachers and counselors at EPHS helped me to get into classes at Triton College during my senior and junior year of high school. The courses I took at Triton at night and over the summer, plus a few AP classes during the day, all made it possible to graduate college early.
Q: Your first teaching job was at Kellogg School as a special education teacher. Where is Kellogg, and what was that job like?
A: I worked at Kellogg Elementary in the North Beverly neighborhood of Chicago for nearly five years. Kellogg is a small community school that serves students in grades K-8. I loved the community feel, and that’s where I began learning about school leadership. At Kellogg, I was able to take on many leadership roles, and I learned there how to work with the community to build a better, stronger school.
Q: What led you to take a job at Elmwood in October 2014?
A: I was so excited to return to the community in which I live and grew up in, to make a difference in my community.
Q: What were some of the differences between working at Kellogg and Elmwood?
A: The biggest difference is that at Elmwood, I get to see my students as members of the community as well. Living so close, I get to attend many soccer, basketball and softball games etc. of my students. I love learning about what their hobbies are outside of school and incorporating those things into my classroom.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories of being a teacher at Elmwood?
A: The best part of working at Elmwood is how inspiring my co-workers and students are to me. My favorite moments are when a student tells me, “I didn’t understand that before, but now that you explained it, I get it!” The teachers are the heart and soul of Elmwood; their dedication to their students really inspires me each day.
Q: What led you to want to move into the administrative side of education?
A: In my first year of teaching, I decided that I wanted to pursue school administration. I have also learned from some great administrators, especially Mr. Seibel, who has gone above and beyond to teach me how to be a great administrator this year. [Note: Mr. Kevin Seibel, Elmwood’s former principal, is now principal of District 401’s Early Childhood Center.]
Q: What led you to apply for the Elmwood assistant principal job?
A: This year, I participated in a yearlong internship with Mr. Seibel. He supported me through many of my classes and helped me to feel confident going into my career in educational administration. When I found out that there would be an opening at Elmwood for next year, I was excited at the prospect of serving my community in the new role.
Q: What will your main responsibilities be?
A: It will be a discussion that will have to take place between myself and Mr. Lerner, the new principal.
Q: I see that you already have one master’s degree, from Northeastern Illinois. What is that in?
A: My first master’s degree is from NEIU and is called “Learning Behavior Specialist 2: Curriculum Adaptation Specialist.”
Q: It appears that you’re almost finished your second master’s degree, in educational administration from Concordia University. When will you receive that degree?
A: I graduated on May 5!
Q: What motivated you to continue your education while working full time?
A: My family has been very supportive of me while I have been working on my degree for the past two years. My husband, my parents, my grandmother and my aunt have all taken on extra responsibilities so that I could attend my classes.
Q: Who have been some of your major influences and mentors as an educator?
A: I have had the opportunity to work with the best people over my nine-year career. This year, Mr. Seibel really supported me through my internship to make sure I had all the tools I need to be a successful administrator.
Q: What advice would you give to young people interested in becoming educators themselves?
A: Do something that you are passionate about. The most important part of the job is to help students grow and learn. If that is something they are interested in, they should talk to their school counselor about opportunities to learn more about it!
Q: What are some of your interests outside of work?
A: I like to spend time outdoors. My parents recently relocated to Fox Lake, Wis. My family and I spend a lot of time there on their boat!
Q: Would you like to tell us anything about your family?
A: Yes! My husband, Nick, and I live in Elmwood Park with our son, Jeffry, who just turned 4. My husband also works in special education and coaches the EP Dodgers T-ball team. Our son plays soccer and T-ball.
Some of Ms. Hagins' Favorites
Elmwood students and parents might enjoy some "fun facts" about their new assistant principal!
► Favorite book when you were in elementary school?
“Number the Stars.”
► Favorite book now as an adult?
I love to read biographies.
► Favorite movie when you were in elementary school?
“Remember the Titans.”
► Favorite movie as an adult?
Still “Remember the Titans.”
► Favorite musical act when you were in elementary school?
► Favorite musical act now?
Elmwood Elementary Choir.
► Favorite song when you were in elementary school?
I can’t remember.
► Favorite song now?
The Elmwood Pride Song.