State’s top elementary principal shows students ‘how to do the right thing every day’

Houston principal best in the state

Westside Elementary's Cynthia Hammond was surprised with the Georgia 2017 National Distinguished Principal award Friday.
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Westside Elementary's Cynthia Hammond was surprised with the Georgia 2017 National Distinguished Principal award Friday.

Everything Cynthia Hammond does is for the children.

Her commitment and passion for her job were celebrated Friday morning at Westside Elementary, where she’s been principal for eight years.

Hammond was surprised with the 2017 Georgia National Distinguished Principal award during an assembly. She was greeted with shouts and applause as she entered the gym, as students and faculty members waived festive signs and blew noise-makers.

The award was presented by the Georgia Association of Elementary School Principals. Hammond was chosen out of 1,300 public school elementary principals in Georgia, said Hal Beaver, executive director of the association.

“It’s acknowledging the calling on (Hammond’s) life to reach students through leadership and to push students to reach their potential,” said Larae McRae, instructional coach for Westside Elementary. “I’ve only been here a short time, but I’ve been able to see her character and integrity during school hours and after-school hours, and I’m just so proud to be a Westside Wildcat.”

Hammond received a $2,500 cash award and a new ride — a green children’s bike that she will most likely give away through a student drawing, she said. She’ll be honored along with winners from other states during a two-day trip to Washington, D.C., this fall.

“The principal job, it is a lot. But you have to do it from the heart, and I do it from the heart,” Hammond said. “I do it because I love children. I love the faculty and the staff. I love being a leader because I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and the lives of adults.”

Since Hammond became principal of the Warner Robins school, Westside has gained STEM certification, ramped up literacy instruction and harvested fresh produce through aeroponic towers, garden beds and a greenhouse. She’s increased academic achievement, with the school making the state Department of Education’s 2016 and five-year “Beating the Odds” lists.

Hammond said she may not always be perfect in her position, but she remains faithful to it at all times. She expects greatness from all of her students, and they, in turn, keep her grounded, motivated and inspired. She’s professional, firm and consistent, McRae said, and her standard is excellence.

“She looks at all aspects of the student, not just the academics but the social, emotional and behavioral needs of the students,” Assistant Principal of Instruction Cindy West said. “She just loves the students and wants them to learn and grow into great adults. She reminds them to do the right thing each and every day.”

Also attending the assembly were Houston County school board members, central office staff, several members of Hammond’s family, and representatives from the Georgia Association of Elementary School Principals and partner Mentoring Minds.

Andrea Honaker: 478-744-4382, @TelegraphAndrea