Ector County Independent School District is seeing another of its longtime principals retire this year.
Pam Walker, who has been with the district for 31 years and an educator for 37, is stepping down from her post at San Jacinto Elementary School. She has been principal there for four years. Previously, she was principal at Ireland Elementary for 10 years and has served as an assistant principal and been a teacher in a variety of elementary grade levels.
She also worked in Amherst for a year and Sherwood Christian Academy in Odessa.
A native of Hobbs, N.M., Walker moved to Odessa when she was 3 years old.
“I used to sit my little brother down and play school with him. I always wanted to be a teacher,” Walker said. “… I love watching people grow.”
Walker began her education at Odessa College, then earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a minor in psychology from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and then a master’s in school leadership from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.
She also took courses at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
Walker plans to spend more time with her family.
One of Walker’s fondest experiences is the approximately two years she was in Ghana. She has unofficially adopted a family from that country.
“The couple that I went with had gone over there on a mission trip with their church out of Colorado and felt called to go back and drill water wells. I was at their house in the summer right after they had been on that mission trip and they just started talking about the education need over there. I said, ‘I want to go,’ so I did,” Walker said.
“I’m adventurous. I’ve always been that way. I went in ‘95 and I came back in ’97,” she added.
It’s hard to put into words what it was like for her and the impact it made on her life.
“It was a wonderful experience. I loved every minute that I was there. I loved getting to know a new culture and I really felt like I learned way more than I shared; I grew way more than I helped anybody else grow,” Walker said.
The couple she went with was only there four months before they had to come back home and sell a business. They didn’t return for another year, so that last year, Walker was indoctrinated into the culture of Ghana.
“I would go back in a heartbeat. I’ve been back twice since I left and I would still go back,” Walker said.
The thing that changed for her after going to Ghana was she realized that teachers could instruct with the bare minimum and that education was very important to those students.
“… I saw teachers teaching classes of 50 kids with their teacher manuals and chalk. The kids might have one of those little journal things and a pencil. But not all of them even had that. There were no student textbooks. There was no technology whatsoever. There wasn’t even air conditioning. You had the holes in the walls for windows and that was your air. In the village schools, they didn’t even have floors. Sometimes, they didn’t even have a building. They had school out under a tree, so it really was an eye opener. It’s not about the things you have,” Walker said.
She added that the students felt privileged just to go to school because everybody pays to attend, whether it’s a public or private school.
In the villages, Walker said, students walked to school carrying their chair on their head. If there wasn’t a school in their village, students would ride their bikes or walk to the nearest one.
Through her years at San Jacinto, Walker has pulled the campus out of improvement required status under state accountability rules and helped it heal after its reconstitution.
“I love watching people grow. … I love empowering people to do their job. Pulling San Jacinto from an IR campus up to where they are now was not me, it was my staff. I love watching them feel that power to turn things around to change things to make it right for kids,” Walker said.
She added that San Jacinto has become much more successful in the last few years.
“We have the smallest group of summer school kids that we’ve had since I’ve been here and mostly it’s because we believe in kids and we empower them to do what they need to do and we believe that they can do it,” Walker said.
The biggest thing, she said, is knowing your data and which students need what.
“There’s a saying that says, ‘My teacher believed that I was smarter that I was, so I was.’ That’s kind of our premise here is, too, if kids believe in themselves it makes a huge difference and your teachers have to believe in themselves, too,” Walker added.
Walker said she knew relationships were important before she left for Africa, but her experienced reinforced it.
“My premise has always been that relationships (are) the key. If the teachers can build that relationship with the kids and the kids know that that teachers love them and care, the kids will jump through hoops for them,” Walker added.
San Jacinto teacher Christi Hickman has known Walker for 15 years and worked for her for the same number of years. She worked with Walker at Ireland and then at San Jacinto.
“She stands out because she always does what is best for kids. Children and their well-being are her top priority. She gives students multiple chances to improve their attitude and behavior. She truly makes a difference in children’s lives,” Hickman said in an email.
“As a person, Pam Walker is a true leader. She helps mentor teachers and tries to help them better themselves. She is kind, respectful and cares about her teachers,” Hickman added.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Carolyn Gonzalez said she and Walker have been friends for more than 18 years.
“We began the journey when I was named the principal of Gale Pond Alamo and she was their assistant principal. I believe the one characteristic Pam exemplifies above all others is empathy. Her compassion and relationship building are characteristics to be admired. She began transforming San Jacinto by first learning the staff and providing training that fit their needs. She accepts you, the person (whether student, teacher, community, friend), for what you are and is not afraid to challenge you to be better. She exemplifies a growth mindset!” Gonzalez wrote in an email.