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Wilson principal Hoppes: It’s time to graduate

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After 53 years in school, Eric Hoppes believes it is time he graduated. From kindergarten through a long tenure as teacher, coach and administrator, he has been involved in schools for more than half a century. Now the Wilson School, Wilmar School District superintendent/principal is moving on.

“The first thing I’m going to do is not do anything,” Hoppes said. “I haven’t had too many summers off and I’m looking forward to retirement.”

Not that he isn’t going to miss Wilson School, a place that has been his professional home for the last 10 years. It is just now is the time to “graduate,” as wife, Jackie also retires from Valley Vista School where she has been serving as school librarian.

Hoppes grew up near Redding in Shasta County and had every intention of returning there after graduating from Brigham Young University. He briefly substituted in the Redding area, but, already married with a child, sought permanent employment. “There aren’t many jobs north of San Francisco for a business teacher with a minor in physical education,” he explained.

His job search led him to Petaluma High School, where he found employment teaching business and pursuing his long-held desire to coach. He coached freshman basketball for two years and then took over the varsity program.

He was not an immediate success.

“My first year we won one game,” he recalls, “but then things got better.” So much better that, in the 1991-1992 season Hoppes’ team went 29-4, won the North Bay League championship, finished second in the North Coast Section and went on to play in the Northern California playoffs, where they won a game and advanced to the semifinals before being eliminated.

He eventually left the classroom to move into administration and served as an assistant principal at Petaluma High School and principal at Petaluma Junior High School.

In 2008, he took over the one-school Wilmar School District and became not only superintendent, but also principal of Wilson School. He had no experience on the elementary level, but he quickly discovered it was a perfect fit.

“I love working with the young kids,” he said. “I love their fun and energy. I’m truly going to miss that. It has been wonderful remembering my own childhood and watching their spirit. In many ways it has been humbling.”

He said his years of coaching were good preparation for being an administrator on both the second and elementary school levels. “It taught me how to solve problems and get the job done,” he explained.

He noted that the biggest learning curve he encountered as superintendent/principal was dealing with how the state funds schools, and how they are allowed to spend the money. He suggested that state officials take a first-hand look at what is happening in the schools before setting restrictions and standards.

“If people making the rules would come and watch teachers teach, I think they would be pretty amazed and able to make better decisions,” he maintained.

Hoppes has witnessed many changes at Wilson during his decade at the school, many of them instigated and implemented by himself.

With the help of a bond issue and a lot of hard work, the school has taken on a whole new look, with a completely remodeled entrance, remodeled classrooms and bathrooms and much, much more.

“We just started addressing our needs one by one,” he said. “We went through every classroom.”

All the work wasn’t done with bond money. There was a lot of volunteer help and a great deal of support from local Boy Scouts.

“We’ve had 15 Eagle Scout projects on campus,” Hoppes noted. “Parents built us our baseball field. We’ve had great community support.”

And Hoppes was always there, not just supervising, but doing. He’s done evey thing from painting to cleaning the septic system.

“Maybe because of my coaching background, I’m a hands-on guy,” he said. “I don’t mind doing what has to be done.”

But, it is much more than refurbished buildings and campus improvements that have made Wilson a successful school. The out-going principal said more than anything else, it is the teachers and the other school staff members.

“Happy students come from happy teachers and we have some great teachers at Wilson,” he said. “Schools are about people and we have a great staff at Wilson.

Hoppes said his work ethic and his devotion to his work and, especially to his family, comes from his mother and father, Alan and Evelyn Hoppes. One of four children, he said his parents showed the children what it means to be a family and what it means to be responsible.

“My parents had a tremendous influence on me,” he explained. “They taught us by example. They taught us how to be good family members. They taught us to be good workers. They taught us to be involved. They taught us right from wrong.”

They are lessons Hoppes has passed along to his own children — Cami, Ashlee and Kyle.

Now, it is time for him to finally graduate and Hoppes leaves with two thoughts.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” and “I’m a pretty lucky guy.”