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Five Questions with Dr. Paula Kent from McKinney North, TASSP Region 10 Assistant Principal of the Year

Press Release|
Shane Mauldin|
Monday, November 15, 2021
Dr. Paula Kent, McKinney North High School Associate Principal and 2021-2022 TASSP Region 10 Assistant Principal of the Year

Dr. Paula Kent, McKinney North High School Associate Principal and 2021-2022 TASSP Region 10 Assistant Principal of the Year

McKinney, Texas – It was never really part of Paula Kent’s plan to become a school administrator. She was perfectly happy teaching biology and chemistry and whatever scientific discipline they needed her to take on in her life as a small town educator.

But, 18 years into her career, Kent came to McKinney North High School and opportunity came knocking. During her second year at North, she became the science department chair and an instructional coach.

And, she loved it.

She soon realized that working with adults and helping develop teachers was, well…fun. As her leadership role expanded over the next few years, she became an assistant principal at North and then director of curriculum at Central Office. But, when North Principal Jimmy Spann retired, and then Associate Principal Jae Gaskill stepped into the principal job, Kent returned to campus to serve as North’s associate principal, a position she has served in for the past eight years.

For someone who, for a large portion of her career, wasn’t interested in a job that had the word “principal” in it, Kent has been doing pretty well at it. And, others have noticed.

This year, the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals (TASSP) has named Kent its 2021–2022 Region 10 Assistant Principal of the Year.

We sat down with Kent to find out more about her passion for education, why teaching is a ‘heart’ job and why connections matter.

Here are five questions with McKinney North High School Associate Principal Dr. Paula Kent:

The job of an associate or assistant principal is a challenging one, but what do you love about it?
“I love working with the teachers, and that’s my primary role. I also look at a lot of data. My mind is bent toward strategy. I guess being a science person, that’s just the way it is. So, when I look at something like the master schedule, that’s a giant puzzle for me because I look at what our data says and ask myself, ‘How can I arrange our school day to meet the needs of all of our students?’ That’s a big challenge each year.

“I also serve as a liaison between the programs at Central Office and everybody over there and all of the leadership on this campus—whether it’s assistant principals or instructional coaches. I get to talk to everybody, and I can help direct resources and time and strategy to keep kids moving forward and progressing. And, that’s fun for me. I love this role.”

When did you know that you wanted to go into education?
I always loved science, but…my family were not educators. No one on my side of the family is in education at all, but I remember very clearly that, even when I was a pre-schooler, I would set classes up. My mom had a special room, and I had a chalkboard, and I had grade books for my stuffed animals.

“I would buy ledgers at the Dollar General, and I would have names of all my ‘students’ and all of their grades, and…I don’t know, I was just fascinated by it. It was silly, but I just like learning. I think that’s what it is. I enjoy learning. I was talking to one of our AP Physics teachers yesterday, and I went into his room, and he was teaching physics, and I was totally into it.

“And, I thought, ‘Do the kids know how fabulous this time in their life is?’ They can just sit in a room, and someone who is really smart will just tell them things. It’s great! I wonder if the kids really appreciate how wonderful the people in their lives are right now and what they are doing for them. And, I hope they don’t take it for granted. I’ve always liked school. I always just thought it was great.”

What does it mean to you to be recognized by the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals as the Assistant Principal of the Year?
“It’s very nice, and I’m very grateful for it. But, honestly, I really just consider myself one representative of all the hard work that other people do because I don’t know that I’m a particular standout. I just happened to get noticed, and I think that’s great. But, I think there are a lot of assistant principals out there that need the love and recognition. I don’t know if people really know and understand how hard that role is. I love being the associate principal, but there is a lot that goes into it. I start my day sometimes with bus duty, have a million meetings, go into a million classrooms, do a bunch of PLCs, and then I end my night waiting with the last kid to get picked up from the football game—and the day was 18 hours long.

“So, I’m just one of legions of assistant principals who I think are unsung heroes, who do that kind of thing every day. If I am just a representative of a group of amazing people, that makes me happy, but I don’t think I’m any more amazing than the rest of them. They all do the hard work. I hope parents, teachers and kids appreciate what they do because they really are unsung heroes, truly.”

What advice would you give to high school seniors or college students who are interested in a career in education?
“One, know that you have to come into this with your whole heart. I used to ask the question in interviews, ‘Are you coming here to teach physics? Or, are you coming here to teach kids?’ And, if the answer to that question is that you’re coming to teach your subject area, you’re coming into the wrong profession because it’s much bigger than that.

“You need to love your subject, and you need to be passionate and knowledgable about the thing you want to teach, but if you’re really into Beowulf, and you just want everybody to love Beowulf they way you love it, they won’t. I can promise it. And, you really need to come at this job because you want to make better humans, because you want to send better people into the world. I loved chemistry, and I knew when I was teaching it, 90 percent of what I was going to tell them, they were going to forget. But, if they could come out on the other side as a person who knows how to think a little better, who has a bit more critical thinking skill, is a little bit kinder…then I did my job.

“Sometimes they will buy into what you love also, so that’s great. You do need to have knowledgable people who are committed to the work, but you’ve got to be committed to them. It’s more than just the subject. You’ve got to love the kids.”

That leads us to the next question. This year’s theme is “Connections Matter.” Could you talk a bit more about the importance of students making connections?

“I think that’s what makes school fun. You can love your subject, and you can get kids to love your subject, but it’s got to be a sense of camaraderie. When I was teaching, I loved coaching the science team. And, it was about winning, and we were very competitive, just as any team would be. But, really what I remember is that those kids who liked similar things got to spend time with each other. So, I loved being the sponsor for that group back then, and I’m working with our our AP science teachers to sponsor a group of kids and make it about the fun they can have together.

“Don’t get me wrong; I want to be competitive. I really want to be competitive. But, we also need to enjoy the journey. Enjoy each other. Enjoy spending time together. So, when I try to get the science UIL team to get going again, it’s not about just a trophy or a banner we can hang on the wall; it’s about the memories we can make together.

“When you find a group of friends that are like-minded and want to talk about the Krebs cycle and memorize all the steps in the enzymatic reactions with you. It’s about finding your people and really enjoying each other and making those lifelong connections, people you will remember forever. Even when you forget all the enzymes and the Krebs cycle, you still remember the good times you had together when you were traveling to Austin to go compete at state: ‘We stopped at Chili’s, and we ate the whatever, and this thing happened, and that thing happened.’ Those are the real memories that you take away with you.”

Bonus question: What do you love about McKinney North High School?
“This is my 11th year. Gosh, so much…I think we have just an amazing culture in terms of adults that want to work hard and do right by kids and love kids for the right reasons, but who are also competent in their role, whatever they do—whether it’s the band director, the physics teacher…whatever it is. And, they really do love kids and care about kids being good people.

“I will say, too, I love our kids. We really have nice kids. They make mistakes just like everybody else. Kids are kids, but at the end of the day, we get a lot of compliments about them. I travel on a lot of field trips with our kids, and I see how they treat people out in the community, and they say, ‘Please,’ and they say, ‘Thank you,’ and they’re respectful. I love that about our school.

“And, on top of that we’ve got a lot of school spirit. A couple of years ago, we were the most spirited in all of North Texas. And that was fun. So, I just am enamored by and love coming here every day.

“It’s like a small town under one roof. When I drive home, the sign outside the town where I live says 1,990 people. I come here and our student population is 2,160 — and, you know, add a couple more for staff. It’s like coming to a small town everyday, and that’s a really nice feeling. It just feels like home.”

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