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Murray Journal

New faces in Murray School District schools to greet students in fall

Aug 17, 2020 03:16PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

When students at McMillian Elementary learned they would have a new principal this fall, they put on their reporter’s hats and asked the incoming principal, Hannah Dolata Hafemann, some questions. 

Do you have a sense of humor? 

“Definitely. I think it is important to laugh every day. Taking time to be silly helps me to not get too stressed out and to be good at the serious parts of my job. My family and I have a French bulldog puppy named Howie who is totally goofy and makes us laugh every day.”

Can you play an instrument? 

“I don't play any instruments, but I sing a lot. When I was a classroom teacher, I used to sing to my class during lessons because it helped us to remember things and it was fun.”

Can you fluently speak another language? 

“I can speak some Spanish, but I am not fluent. I would really like to learn to speak French someday because my husband and my daughter both speak French, and I want to be sneaky and know what they are saying. I think it is great that some students and families speak more than one language. The job that I had before becoming your principal was to work with teachers and schools to help students who are learning English and speak another language when they are at home.”

How long do you plan on staying at McMillan?

“I don't know how many years I will be your principal for, but since I am just turning 40 this year (right when school starts), I do know it is going to be a very long time before I retire.” 

Dolata Hafemann, who responded to the fourth- and fifth-graders, said, “Those questions were so fun.” 

Dolata Hafemann is one of several new faces students may see this fall when they return to school, either online or in the halls, depending on how the school year begins in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She is replacing Principal Joy Sanford, who retired.

“I’m going to miss the kids so much,” said Sanford, after 25 years as an educator. “The families here are incredible and the teachers are so in tune to the kids and instruction. The support staff is incredible. It’s a great place to end my career.”

Other appointments include Whitney Anderson, former Horizon Elementary assistant principal, becoming principal of the school as Principal Heather Nicholas moves to head Parkside Elementary. Nicholas replaces Brian Dawes, who resigned after 25 years of public education to explore working in the private sector. 

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to work at Parkside and Murray School District and the community just welcomed me,” Dawes said. “The kids were the greatest. There was a diversity and uniqueness that I absolutely loved. It was hard not having that opportunity of closure to say goodbye in person.”

Vanessa Jobe has been appointed as assistant principal intern at Horizon and Jon Jensen will be Murray High’s assistant principal as Dolph Church retired.

All appointments were effective July 1.

Dolata Hafemann, Jensen and Jobe are all new to the district, coming from the Salt Lake City District. Dolata Hafemann was an English Language Development Specialist and has also worked as an elementary teacher, ALS coordinator and academic adviser. 

Jansen, a former special education teacher and athletic director, has worked with at-risk and high-needs students at both Horizonte School and Highland High. He was Highland’s assistant principal.

Jobe was an elementary literacy coach and has worked as an elementary teacher in both private and public schools.

Dolata Hafemann said she’s excited to meet her students as a first-time principal.

Some students in teacher Ann Saltzman’s class emailed questions to her, such as “Why did you decide you wanted to become a principal, and why are you going to be the principal for our school?”

Dolata Hafemann said she decided to become a school principal because she loved being a classroom teacher.

“I want to help make sure that schools are a safe, fun place for kids to be excited about learning and for teachers to be happy and excited about working with students and families,” she said. “It is important to me that schools help all students to challenge themselves as learners and to do amazing things. I'm going to be your principal at McMillan because Ms. Sanford is retiring and your superintendent, Ms. (Jennifer) Covington, and the Murray City School District team think I will be a good fit for your school community. I can't wait to meet you and your families. I have heard really great things about McMillan and am so excited to be a Mighty Mite.”

Another question asked, “Are you nice?”

Dolata Hafemann responded: “I think I am a nice person, and I try to be friendly and kind every day. There might be times when we have different opinions about something at school, but I will always listen to you so that we can talk about it and make a plan together with your family. I am looking forward to talking to you about what you like or maybe don't like at school and how we can make being at school a great experience for all students.”

She invited students to email her or mail her a letter if there is anything more they would want to know before the school year begins. She also has book suggestions for elementary students who want to get in a last-minute read before the school year begins. (See sidebar)

Dolata Hafemann added she loves art and seeing it interwoven into curriculum, she likes to read and watch old movies. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and biology at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, her master’s degree in arts in teaching at Westminster College and her doctorate at the University of Utah in education policy and leadership.

Nicholas, after nine years at Horizon, will take the helm at Parkside Elementary, which will have its third principal in as many years.

At Horizon, which houses a Spanish dual-immersion program, Nicholas said she has built a community of diversity, welcoming nearly 200 out-of-boundary permit-students to attend the 325-student program.

“There’s been a lot of building relationships, trust, home visits, making students and parents feel comfortable, giving parents the opportunity to share their talent and volunteer in classes,” Nicholas said. “It’s a great community.”

It’s a little easier for her, she said, knowing the school is in “really good hands” with Anderson.

“I’m sad to leave Horizon; there’s lots of fond memories,” Nicholas said. “But she’s very capable and I’m happy for this community. I’m going to Parkside with an open mind and heart.”

Some of the parents at Parkside she already knows because they may have dual immersion students at Horizon, but their siblings attend the school alongside Murray Park. She intends to build those relationships and trust with that community.

“I know many kids may come from traumatic backgrounds, 61% are on free and reduced lunch, many may live in government-subsidized housing, and they’re the highest at-risk school in our district,” she said. “But they’re also students who want to learn and the staff works very hard. I’m excited to see why it’s a great, awesome school and why there is a lot of people in their corner.”

Nicholas, who is a “huge U fan” even though she earned her bachelor’s in elementary education at Brigham Young University and her master’s in administration in education from Utah State University, is known to be in the classroom talking about chemical reactions before walking outside with students to see it firsthand by adding Mentos to Coca-Cola then leading them in a water balloon fight. She’s been willing to dye her hair or be duct taped to a wall when students reach a reading or fundraising goal.

“I want them to see I’m human and make a connection. I’m a little fun, crazy, with four-square, kickball, science experiments, reading books or in the lunchroom in the midst of kids,” Nicholas said. “I’m happiest when I’m around the kids.”