By Max Hrenda
Even though this is Candace Patai’s first year as principal of Harold McCormick Elementary, she said she already realizes there’s something special about the school.
“I don’t know why it’s special, but it is,” Patai said. “It’s always been that way. Thirteen years ago, it was that way, and somehow it has maintained through these years.”
While Patai might be unable to specifically cite what makes the school special, apparently, she’s not alone in her opinion.
Harold McCormick Elementary was selected as the region’s best elementary school in the STAR’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards.
“It was an honor,” Patai said. “I’m so excited for Harold McCormick, and for the great faculty, staff and students here. It feels great.”
In addition to the faculty, staff and students, Patai also wished to extend a special “thank you” to another important group — the parents of Harold McCormick.
“We have quite a bit of parental involvement,” Patai said. “At our open house, I bet we had 85-plus percent participation. Many of the classes were packed. It’s a good group.”
Upon learning of the school’s selection in the Readers’ Choice Awards, Patai said she couldn’t wait to share the news with the school’s parents.
“I announced it at (the Aug. 29 Parent Teacher Advisory Council) meeting,” Patai said. “The parents were cheering, clapping and whistling. They were very excited, and they were very proud.”
While she understands that parental involvement played an important role in receiving the Readers’ Choice award — as well as an important role in the school’s day-to-day operations — Patai added that the school’s unique culture also serves to stand out in the community.
“It’s a caring culture,” Patai said. “The teachers treat the kids as though they are their children. When somebody is down, they go and help them. Students feel very welcome here.”
As the teachers continue to show their students how much they care, Patai said the students are inclined to show them the same treatment.
“It’s not unusual for kids just to run up to their teachers just to give them hugs,” Patai said. “In the mornings, prior to breakfast, kids are beating down the front door trying to get in the building. In what other school would a child beat down the door just to get in?”
According to Patai, that attitude has persisted for more than a decade. Thirteen years ago, Patai taught fourth- and fifth-grade at Harold McCormick, and said that not much had changed as far as the “caring culture” was concerned.
“The first thing I said was it was like coming back home to my Hurricane family,” Patai said. “I’ve visited and walked in other elementary schools. There’s just something about the way we love our kids here.
“It’s almost like home to a lot of these kids. It’s a family.”