Some of the younger students at Bryant Elementary made a few slips in recent days and told Principal Russ Van Hook that they knew something he didn’t.
But by all accounts, the school’s staff managed without a hitch to keep secret an assembly Monday afternoon to honor Van Hook for a statewide award.
Van Hook received the Adrian Langstaff Award at the recent 59th annual Montana Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals conference in Missoula. The award is the highest honor MAEMSP can bestow on a member.
“This award is to identify those who give their all to education,” Helena School District Assistant Superintendent Keith Meyer said. “This couldn’t happen to a better individual.”
The entire student body sang a song of appreciation to Van Hook during the surprise assembly, and while he went around giving high-fives and fist-bumps to students, he couldn’t fight back the tears.
“Boy and girls,” he said with a crack in his voice, “I hope you know I love you. I do.”
Fifth-grader Nick McEachern said Van Hook makes a point of stepping into all the classrooms every day he’s at school.
“He comes in to see how we are doing,” he said. “He makes sure we are happy, and he knows when we are sad and comforts us.”
Pam Campbell, a social services coordinator, has worked with Van Hook during his entire career at Bryant and has witnessed the sincere care he brings to work every day.
“He knows the name of every student in the building and makes every student feel special,” she said.
Campbell says he gives students rides home when they need it, jumps batteries in parents’ cars, and even rode the bus with a student who was only able to ride with supervision.
“He’ll do anything for students,” she said. “He’s always willing help students and families and will step outside the box to do it.”
Prior to Van Hook arriving at Bryant 18 years ago, the school struggled to keep a consistent administrator. Under Van Hook’s leadership the school received two national awards: Distinguished Title 1 School in 2001 and Blue Ribbon in 2005, both acknowledgements of the successful efforts made to improve student learning and parental involvement.
Fellow administrators and Bryant staff credit Van Hook for the successful implementation of programs that led to these awards.
“We were the first school to pilot new programs like all-day kindergarten, school-based mental health services, school backpack food program,” Campbell said. “We are often the school that pilots the new project the district is trying to look at, and that happens because Russ encourages teachers to try innovative things and he’s willing to stand by them.”
Van Hook extends his job outside of the school walls, too. He’s served on city and county boards to assist low-income families, coordinates a program in Helena to provide refurbished bikes to students, serves on the county’s Child Protective Team, and created a bookmobile to provide literature activities for the Bryan students in the summer.
The staff told a small fib to get him in the right spot at the right time on Monday.
Van Hook said his staff told him they were having trouble with a student and needed his help. When he walked into the gym, that’s not what he found. There was no student with troubles, but a student body ready to sing his praises.
HEF recognized for contribution
The Helena Education Foundation received the Friends of Education Award at the 59th annual Montana Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals conference held last week in Missoula.
“It was a great evening for Helena schools,” said Keith Meyer, the district’s assistant.
Broadwater School Principal Sue Johnson nominated HEF for the award.
“After moving to Helena last year I saw this group that raises all this money for our teachers and students, they were a perfect nominee,” Johnson said. “They go above and beyond, and what they do benefits the entire community.
Darrell Rud, executive director of School Administrators of Montana, said HEF is deserving of the award.
“They’ve done some amazing things in this community reaching out in various and unusual ways,” Rud said.
HEF Executive Director Lisa Cordingley said while she appreciates the recognition, she’s more excited about the statewide message that’s being projected.
“It was gratifying to win, but what pleases me most is it shows a statewide audience what possibilities exist for their own communities and that’s something the Helena Education Foundation values,” Cordingley said. “We do what we can for our community, but sharing this kind of vision outside of Helena was another way to get the message across.”
Reporter Alana Listoe:
447-4081 or email@example.com