Valley Christian High School principal moves into retirement
Gail Hanson, the newly retired former principal of Valley Christian High School, recently celebrated her 70th birthday, 45th year as a teacher and seventh as the VCHS principal in an event that wrapped all three occasions into one celebration at the school’s annual fall festival.
The event took place on the last Friday in October and nearly coincided exactly with her actual birthday. Nearly 100 people attended. About half were former students and the rest current students, teachers and staff.
Hanson came to the Rio Grande Valley in 1971 with her late husband Paul Hanson and their baby son intending to organize themselves for a permanent move into Mexico to become missionaries.
Instead, God called the three of them to Brownsville, Gail said, where Paul founded, he and Gail taught at and Paul was the principal of Valley Christian High School until his death in 2011.
Gail had been the principal since then but retired at the fall festival and birthday celebration, stepping back to teach two hours a day at Valley Christian and devote more time to her prison ministry in the Cameron County jail system.
She said jail occupants and high school students are her favorite kinds of students because they are so teachable.
“I wouldn’t do anything else except teach teenagers,” she said of her 45 years as a teacher. “They’re so teachable, so responsive, so curious.” As for being principal she said she originally thought she would serve out the rest of the year after Paul’s death but ended up staying seven to carry forward Paul’s and Jesus Christ’s mission.
“Most of the teachers love me, loved Paul, love the school and love the lord. It’s a very sweet group. Nine of the teachers are former students,” she said.
Paul and Gail Hanson met at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle. They belonged to the Summer of Love generation of the late 1960s. By 1970 Paul had come to Matamoros and met with missionaries there. He and Gail were planning to move to Mexico and become missionaries.
“He immediately got a job with BISD at the migrant school (now Casteñeda Elementary). I was home with the baby. God told us to come here and start a Christian high school,” Gail said. Today the school has about 20 students, and each year the senior class takes a senior trip. This past year they went to England and France.
“It’s one of the nice things about a small school. Whether it’s the Island, or the zoo or Paris, we like to travel,” she said.
Last January Gail asked Elizabeth Romero, a teacher and former student, to become the vice principal. In August she asked her to become principal “to carry the mission forward of Christian education” and she accepted.
“I want to do more for the jail,” Gail said of her plans now. “I hope the prisons can become more transformative and less punitive. The inmates pull on my heart as much as the teenagers.”