Home is where the heart is, so goes the old adage. For Mary Lou Hoffman, education comes a close second to a home. Her heart has been in education for more than 50 years. Throughout her professional life, she has devoted her talent, time and treasures to the molding of young minds.
That fulfilling and meaningful career will come to an end on June 30 when she bids goodbye to a job that has been the focal point of the biggest slice of her life. That’s when she will relinquish the administrator’s helm at St. Anthony of Padua School which she has held for the past 11 years. The school is now in the process of accepting applications from interested candidates with the filing deadline set for Feb. 15. That will be followed by the interview process. The successful applicant will succeed Hoffman as principal at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.
While she admitted “it’s hard” to leave the job where her heart has always been, Hoffman nonetheless said with reluctant resignation that “I think, it’s time” to finally hang her professional hat and retire.
“I love what I do. I love the kids. I love the community, but it’s time,” the Eureka-born Hoffman said as she sat at her principal’s desk facing a large security camera monitor with nine separate screens showing different areas of the school and campus. The school security system was donated by parents of students and is similar to the one located in the church office.
Educator and principal in
public and private sector
The Chico State University graduate has taught in public schools for 12 years and the rest in elementary Catholic institutions. Two years at Annunciation School in Stockton which started her teaching career after college was followed by a nine-year job stint in public schools. Then she got married, after which she and her husband moved to East Palo Alto because his job was in Mountain View. While there, she went back to being a public school teacher.
Long before commuting became a buzzword, Hoffman was a commuter. It was, however, for her a reverse commute from Stockton to her job at St. Mary’s, an elementary school in Walnut Creek. She was there for 16 years, 10 of which she was principal.
Her job commute ended when the pastor of St. Luke’s Church in Stockton informed her of a similar position open at the parish school, a job she eventually secured. She came to her current top administrator post at St. Anthony in Manteca from her job at St. Luke’s.
Hoffman calls St. Anthony’s parochial school “a small community.” Many public elementary schools have student populations of around a thousand or more. In contrast, St. Anthony has a little more than 300 including the preschool, although that department “runs on its own.” There are 235 students enrolled in the kindergarten to eighth-grade classes; 70 in preschool.
“It’s an excellent school,” Hoffman said of the campus that she leads with unadulterated and obvious pride. She praised the dedicated teachers, who all have teaching credentials, as educators who always go far “above and beyond” their calling. “With God, everything is possible,” she simply explained with a smile about how the school has defied odds, staying on an even keel during the difficult years that constantly brought challenges to stay afloat and keep the classroom doors open to Catholic education. The relentless challenge continues. But through dint of hard work and dedication by the entire staff to a job that they remain faithful to because of the children and not due to comfortable compensations, St. Anthony soldiers on to provide the best education the school can offer — academic as well as faith-based instruction that feeds the young souls and directs them to the straight and narrow.
Quality academic learning
plus religion classes
All classrooms have teacher assistants helping the teaching staff. Like public schools, St. Anthony has a computer lab available for its students. Unlike many public schools, it offers Spanish classes which are taught to students from fourth to eighth grades. Besides the regular academic requirements, students also receive instructions outside of textbooks such as respect for one another.
“We’re a family. We’re a community, and we’re here for each other,” Hoffman added, ticking off the pluses of a Catholic education provided at St. Anthony, many of which were achieved thanks to her leadership as acknowledged by church pastor Patrick Walker.
“Our principal, Mary Lou Hoffman, has made significant strides to make St. Anthony’s school better in the past decade,” he said, pointing out some of those highlights. “This includes an open-door policy for students, faculty and parents. Students often stop by the office to say hi or share their concerns with her.”
He also revealed how the parochial school has achieved success in dodging the financial bullet that is a constant challenge to many a private educational institutions’ survival.
“Mrs. Hoffman has been generous and kind in working with families who are struggling with financial or relational issues. The school is operating in the black despite a drop in the number of students over the past six years. Mrs. Hoffman has been a strong advocate of Catholic identity at St. Anthony’s School,” elaborated Walker who, like Hoffman, also taught in public schools after graduating from California State University at Stanislaus and before he began his studies for the priesthood.
And while Hoffman spoke of her dedicated staff going above and beyond their duty, that also applies to her, the pastor noted saying, “She attends our school monthly Mass at the 10:45 Sunday morning time despite the fact she and her husband, Michael, are members of Presentation Parish in Stockton.”
For her part, Hoffman is grateful to the pastor for being “very supportive” through the years not only to all the things she has done, and continues to do, but to all the families of the students and the children as well.
“He’s been a wonderful asset to the school,” said Hoffman whose family counts several members who also work in parochial schools. One daughter-in-law works at St. Luke’s School, and a daughter is on Presentation School’s staff. Both campuses are in Stockton. A granddaughter, 22-year-old Lexie Curtis, also works in marketing and development at St. Luke’s School.
The Hoffmans’ blended family consists of three children (two sons and one daughter), six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Her husband is a psychologist at Linden Unified.
What retirement has in
store for Principal Hoffman
Hoffman still has more than five months on the job before her official retirement takes effect but she already has a good idea as to how she is going to spend the days when she will no longer need to clock in at work and follow a hectic schedule. For one thing, there’s the high volume of “things at home” to get organized and to straighten out, tasks and projects that were, or are being put in the back burner while in the job force. She also expects to stay busy doing volunteer work. She said she will be “more than willing and available to help” the new principal who will take over at the school.
“It’s all about helping each other,” she said.