Wainwright Elementary School’s new principal, Ryan Hutchings, said he can’t wait to see students in person.
“I can’t wait to be back,” he said. “As an educator, you do it for the kids. I want to see the hustle and bustle. Every day is unique.”
The veteran educator is spending his 18th year in Houston ISD. Hutchings started as a science teacher at Sharpstown Middle School, which later became Sharpstown International School, later moving to Lanier Middle School.
Hutchings worked as an Elementary Science Curriculum Specialist, helping schools develop a robust science program, prior to becoming an Assistant Principal at Sam Houston Math, Science, & Technology Center. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Biology and Education from the State University of New York at Cortland, and later a master’s degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Houston, and a second master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Lamar University.
He said he had always been interested in anatomy and physiology but knew he didn’t want to go into medicine. Once he decided he wanted to be a teacher, though, he went all in, coming to Houston because teaching jobs were hard to come by in New York.
Hutchings said he enjoyed being a middle school science teacher because “it was a little bit of all the sciences.” However, when he became a department chair and later an administrator, he found that teaching and leading adults was just as rewarding.
“I was interested in how the classroom can be adapted to meet the needs of all learners,” he said.
He came to Sam Houston the year after an overhaul of the school due to multiple years with an unacceptable rating from the Texas Education Agency and is proud of how the school improved.
“I’ve seen (Sam Houston) grow so much,” Hutchings said. “And the leaders there really invested in me.”
It was his boss at the school, Alan Summers, who suggested that Wainwright would be a good fit for Hutchings and his skills. There was a principal opening after longtime principal Christina Aguirre-Oliva left for Ketelsen Elementary.
“Wainwright was a science and math magnet,” Hutchings said. “And I always wanted to be a principal.”
According to an HISD profile, more than 40 percent of students at the math and science magnet and dual language school are English language learners. More than 70 percent are Hispanic. Hutchings took Spanish throughout high school and says he can understand the language and speak it some, but relies on help when he wants to make sure his message comes across.
“I am going to push myself,” he said.
Hutchings said he appreciates the longtime staff at the school as well as its “family feel.” During the summer and into the first of the year, his focus has been to give staff the tools and support to pull off virtual learning. HISD is not opening classrooms for in-person instruction until at least Oct. 19.
Going forward, he said his focus is to build a more robust academic program.
“That’s what parents truly want,” he said.
One way Hutchings plans to do that is to add a math lab into the rotation and expand on the science lab that already exists to emphasize project-based learning.
The school’s parent-teacher association has also been a welcome collaboration for Hutchings.
“We do have a cadre of committed parents and community members who want to see the school succeed,” said Hutchings, adding that while he can focus on building the human capital in teachers, the PTA can build on the community support.
Department store Burlington, which opened nearby, recently gifted the school with $5,000 that teachers could use to buy supplies. And Joe V’s Smart Shop helped with teacher goodie bags as food distribution for students is organized by the district.
Hutchings said the demographic at Sam Houston is similar to that at Wainwright, and he will use the things he learned there to meet the needs of the student body, including English language learners and those in special education programs. An instructional learning council has begun to meet to brainstorm further.
“We look at the individual student,” he said. “It’s a collaborative culture.”
Hutchings acknowledges the challenges of a non-traditional start to the school year.
“I’ve been so proud of the teachers,” he said. “Everybody’s watching them, students, parents and administrators, (and) they’ve just run with it.”
Hutchings looks forward to more of a two-way dialog with the larger school community as he said he relies a lot on feedback from parents.
He said community members can support the school by joining the PTA and also volunteering as bilingual buddies to help monolingual families during this transitional time. He hopes to have some kind of socially distant event in the near future, like a parade or drive-through.
“When we found out that we were getting a new principal, there were many anxious feelings around how the new principal would navigate all of the special circumstances at Wainwright,” PTA President Jessi Heiner said. “Principal Hutchings has not only exceeded expectations, he has gone above and beyond to ensure that his transition to Wainwright was as smooth as possible.”
Heiner said the community is grateful for his new energy.
“We loved his predecessor, Principal Christina Oliva, who brought the school out of (improvement required) status while simultaneously introducing the dual-language program,” Heiner said. “We are grateful for her work, and are so excited to continue to the next level with Principal Hutchings.”