ST. GEORGE — A Washington County principal was surprised last week when she thought she was coming to school for a regular meeting but instead received a prestigious award.
On Friday, Santa Clara Elementary Principal Nadine Hancey was asked to come to the school to meet with a parent, but when she showed up, Hancey was met by a delegation of state and Washington County School District leaders, school staff and family who presented her with the Elementary Principal of the Year award.
The award came from the Utah Association of Elementary School Principals, which is part of the larger National Association of Elementary School Principals.
The honor came as a complete surprise to Hancey, who told St. George News she was nominated for the award at the district level in October.
“From that point I didn’t hear anything,” Hancey said.
The district and the school kept the news of her winning the state award under wraps until they were able to present it to her Friday.
Hancey said the secretaries called any faculty members that were in the building to the library where they celebrated at an impromptu – and, of course, socially distanced – faculty meeting.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises for Hancey, she said, was that her daughters, who live in Salt Lake City, were told about the award and were able to be there for their mom.
Verlene Christensen, one of the school’s secretaries, said that it was fun to be part of the surprise.
“It was beautiful. She was so excited,” Christensen said. “She deserved it.”
At the end of this school year, Hancey will have completed 41 years working in education, serving as principal for three years at LaVerkin Elementary and 11 years at Santa Clara Elementary.
Still, despite all her experience, Hancey said she felt humbled and honored at being recognized for the work she does.
“It was such an honor,” she said. “I am sure there are many people more deserving than I am, but it was fun to be recognized.”
The award is part of the National Distinguished Principals program, which “honors outstanding elementary and middle-level administrators who ensure that America’s children acquire a sound foundation for lifelong learning and achievement,” according to information from the association.
Members of Hancey’s staff, as well as Washington County School District administrators, say that is exactly what she does at the helm.
Leslie Fletcher, a fifth grade teacher at Santa Clara Elementary, described Hancey as “the calm” at the school.
“Through all the grief that teachers, parents and of course students give her, I have not once seen her upset,” Fletcher said, adding that no matter the problem, Hancey is methodical, patient, listens intently and never jumps to conclusions. “Some principals have a reputation for siding with teachers and some with siding for parents. Nadine sides with everyone and gives each and every person a voice.”
Christensen echoed those sentiments.
“She is an amazing lady,” she said. “She doesn’t react; she thinks things through and does what’s best for the kids.”
At the district level, Hancey is revered for both her passion for education and her compassion with staff and students.
Amy Mitchell, an executive director with elementary schools as well as director of Title 1 for elementary schools at Washington County School District, said she is always amazed by Hancey’s ability to remain passionate after so many years in education.
“One of the things that I think defines her is how rare it is to be able to work with a person who has had such a lengthy career and still has such a positive, proactive and passionate disposition,” Mitchell said.
She said Hancey’s passion for education and those she is able to interact with shows in her face.
“You just can’t picture Nadine without picturing her smile. She makes you smile when you see her smile, and I think every kid deserves a principal like that,” she said.
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