Marine Corps veteran sees success as Illinois school superintendent
It was her first day of teaching and she thought she had the perfect strategy. Inside a rural southern Illinois high school, she looked into the eyes of the English students gathered in her classroom and offered what she thought would be just the right icebreaker. She thought that if she shared a little something about herself, they’d relax and share with her.
“I said something to the effect of, ‘I am a Marine Corps veteran. Nothing you can do can compare to the things I’ve seen,’” she said. The strategy backfired. “I thought it would bring them out of their shells, but they were frozen in their seats!”
Lori Franke Hopkins laughs about it now. Her background as a United States Marine Corps military police officer can intimidate, but her personality immediately puts people at ease.
“I’m a hugger,” she said, describing her relationship with students in Jersey Community Unit School District (CUSD) No. 100 in Jerseyville, Illinois, where she now serves as superintendent.
“The only way I’m going to get respect is to give respect and to develop a good, honest rapport with students,” she said. “The Marine Corps experience is part of that.”
Hopkins said she treasures the relationships she builds with students.
“When I was principal, I told my teachers that when children made strides, send them to the office, or have me stop by the classroom,” she said. “You’d better believe the celebrations began!”
Jersey CUSD No. 100 has a lot to celebrate these days, and Hopkins credits Istation with much of its success.
“I truly think Istation is an academic game-changer,” Hopkins said. “Istation is building students’ confidence by giving them an engaging tool that allows them to enjoy learning, and they don’t even know they’re learning!”
When Hopkins became superintendent, her district’s students were struggling with reading. In September 2011, as her schools began using Istation, 262 kindergarten through 3rd grade students were considered Tier 3.
“We expect teachers to make miracles happen in the classroom by having students achieve more than they did last year and comparing them to other students,” she said. “But one thing we’ve never considered is how we know where kids are at particular times in their academic lives.”
Istation’s assessments gave No. 100’s teachers critical information and guided them along a path to growth, Hopkins said.
“With Istation we are able to diagnose [student weaknesses], provide interventions to help with specific skill areas, and we are seeing great growth because of that.”
Assessments taken by the same group of students 20 months after the initial assessments showed improvement: just 77 students were considered Tier 3.
So the celebrations continue.
“Celebratory moments are few and far between for some,” she said. “When we celebrate, it motivates. And that means they want to do more: read more, work on a skill more. They’re growing, it’s exciting, and their confidence is developing.”
Hopkins said she joined the Marine Corps because of a deep desire to serve the public that was instilled by her mother, an educator, and her father, who was a Marine before he was an Illinois state trooper. That love of public service still motivates her.
Despite her extensive service to the students of No. 100, Hopkins tells her teachers they are the “difference makers.”
“I think I have the power to impact teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, secretaries,” she said. “That’s why I want to be the leader. Because as much as I want to think I can impact a bunch of kids, the impact is much greater if I can impact all of those who come in contact with the kids of our district.”
She is a superintendent who commands respect — partially because of what she’s done, but mostly because of who she is.