From crossing guard to Smoketree’s principal, Connie Hogard personifies perseverance
To paraphrase the “Do Re Mi” song, Connie Hogard started at the very beginning, which for her was a very good place to start.
She has been the principal at Smoketree Elementary School for 14 years. But she has been at the school for 35 years, beginning as a volunteer and PTSO president when her two children were young. Serving as a crossing guard and later as an instructional assistant were her first paying jobs at the school.
Hogard said that working with terrific teachers at Smoketree inspired her to pursue her bachelor’s degree and become a teacher herself.
But it wasn’t easy.
“I worked full-time at the school and part-time at a laundromat at night. At the same time, I was going to school to get my degree from NAU (Northern Arizona University),” she said. She did her student teaching at Smoketree and was subsequently hired to teach first-graders. As a working mom and wife, it took Hogard 10 years to reach her goal. She then earned her master’s degree from NAU.
All those years working as an aide to other teachers provided an invaluable education, she said.
“I was inspired by great teachers and picked up a lot of classroom management tips. I also learned perseverance. There is always a way to teach a student. Some kids learn differently – you just have to figure out what that is. You never give up,” Hogard said.
She supports the use of homework at the elementary level for a couple of reasons.
“Homework should be something that is short practice. It’s shouldn’t be used to introduce new material. It’s practice for what has already been learned. Homework is also good for parents. It’s a small window to show parents what their child is learning,” she said.
Today, Hogard leads 498 students, 33 teachers and 35 support staff employees. She cannot imagine being anywhere else.
“Your passion drives you. While I was trying to get my degree, I was so determined. I came and worked here every day as an instructional assistant and that (job) somehow kept me going. I loved learning,” she said.
Family: Husband John, two grown children and two grandchildren.
Hometown: Waukegan, Illinois.
Hobbies: Reading, refinishing furniture, counted cross stitch and walking.
What was your best surprise?
I’ve had so many. When John proposed to me. Learning we were going to have our daughter, and then our son. Finding out we were going to be grandparents.
If you had a free weekend, what would you do with it?
Go antiquing, probably somewhere in California.
What’s your favorite way to unwind?
Reading or listening to music. I love music.
Where is your next vacation taking you?
To Illinois to see my family.
What’s your all-time favorite movie?
What’s the best thing you’ve bought in the last six months?
I bought a drafting table for writing and crafting. It has drawers and I can stand up while I’m working at it.
What’s your most recent splurge?
My phone. I had to buy it. I’d had the same one for seven years, but the battery died. I got an iPhone 10.
If you could have an extraordinary talent or skill, what would you choose?
To sing. Or perform surgery. I want to help people.
What’s the luckiest thing that ever happened to you?
When I got this position (as principal).
If you weren’t in your present career, what would you like to be?
An architect or a physical therapist.
What’s your ideal vacation?
Traveling the back roads with no particular destination in mind. “Ambling.” That’s a good word for it. We’d just kind of poke around.
What’s the craziest, most impulsive thing you’ve ever done that you can talk about?
I went parasailing on Lake Havasu. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I’m afraid of heights. I was working the carousel (in the English Village). Someone offered me a free ride, so I did it.
What song makes you want to dance?
There are a lot. “Slicin’ Sand” by Elvis. If that doesn’t make you want to dance, I don’t know what will. Also, Beach Boys songs, “It’s in his Kiss” and anything by the Chiffons.
What song do you like to sing along to?
”Love Potion No. 9.”
What song makes you nostalgic? ”
(I’ve Had the) Time of my Life.”
What’s something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I like to dance – alone or with a partner. And I like refinishing old furniture and woodworking.
What’s left on your life’s “to-do” list?
I want to learn calligraphy. It’s so beautiful.
If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would that be?
Oprah. She is so well-read and connected. She is very invested in education and reading.
What was one of your early jobs?
I was a candy striper. It didn’t work out so well. I spilled a whole pitcher of water on a patient while I was trying to deliver his meal tray.
What was your worst job?
I worked at a (fast food place). I ran the shake machine and made French fries. I only lasted a week. It was not in any way fun and didn’t move fast enough for me.
What book is on your nightstand?
I have two. “Focus” by Mike Schmoker and James Patterson’s “Women’s Murder Club: The 17th Suspect.” One is for work and one is for fun.
Most people can be imagined as either a cat or a dog. Which are you? A dog. I’d be a best friend.
What food can’t you live without? Potato chips – Ruffles. And my sister’s onion chip dip.
Favorite pair of shoes?
My black suede boots. They have a small heel. I wore them to a wedding and danced in them.
What do you collect?
Sea shells. I really like the white ones.
What’s your everyday accessory?
It was my diamond stud earrings. But I lost one a week ago.
What item do you buy in bulk?
Books, CDs and now, vinyl records. I bought a record player, so now I’ve been collecting old records.
What’s your coffee shop order?
House blend. Black.
Is there a store you visit often?
Pottery Barn. Every chance I get.