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Principal Combs: Invest in kids. Invest in people. And the rest will fall into place

There is something to be said about experience.

In any profession, experience provides wisdom, insight, and mentorship. And above that, it allows for friendships and relationships that last for years. In education, it means bonds with staff, faculty, students, families, and a community that can span generations.

At eight years at the helm of Hopkins Elementary, Principal Terry Combs has seen siblings, families, and even generations of students come through the doors of the Kirby campus. That is what makes Hopkins special - it’s a small-town school feel next to a large metropolitan city.

“​​We have grandparents that went here, parents, the kids, and the grandkids,” Combs said. “I want those parents to be able to come to school and be comfortable here too. I want their kids to be comfortable here. If their parents aren’t comfortable coming into our school then their kids won’t be. Relationships matter.”

Relationships Matter - that was a theme Combs hit on when talking about her campus and her experience in Judson ISD.

She started her career 25 years ago at Park Village Elementary School teaching 2nd grade. She was late to the teaching game - family came first. She was a non-traditional student at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) and UTSA. When she decided to be a teacher (starting later than your typical first-year teacher), she was hired by someone who is highly respected in the Judson ISD Principal circle.

“Marty (Martin) Silverman always could keep you more grounded and not let you get so worked up over everything. He taught me how to deal with people - he’s a people person. We are dealing with not only students but parents and the community. You have to learn how to deal with people. You can never feel like you get caught up because this job can get overwhelming. You can’t forget - we are dealing with people,” Combs said.

After Park Village, she spent 13 years at Spring Meadows as a math specialist. There, another leader invested in her, inspiring her to go back to school to become a principal.

“Nancy Robinson saw some potential in me,” Combs said. “She would say, ‘we need to talk about your future.’ That pushed me towards working on my Masters degree.”

Eventually, leadership positions came open across the district. And she was ready for them. She landed at Hopkins with her initial mentor, Mr. Silverman. Together, they continued the Hopkins Way.

“Systems were put in place so that this school could run itself,” Combs said. “Those systems are still in place, from drop off to lunch to dismissal. We just update them as we go, fine-tune them here and there, but those systems that have been in place for decades are still in place.”

After Silverman took over Salinas Elementary, it was time for Principal Combs to lead. And even though she can retire, after eight years at her campus and 25 years in education, she still loves it every day.

“It’s a family here - I just love it. We have a great team. We are comfortable here. The kids love it here. And their parents love it here. That is what makes me feel good - it’s a community here,” Combs said. “When a parent drops off their kid and watches them walk down the hall and there’s a sense of comfort knowing that they are going to be fine, that is what makes me happy. They trust us.”

Last school year, Principal Combs was out for an extended period of time. However, because of that family feeling on campus and within the community, she had confidence and trust that the campus was going to be just fine.

And it’s because of those relationships - those bonds, between the staff, students, and community, that reassured Combs (as she began to cry) that everything was going to be just fine.

“I can retire any time, but I love the look on the little kids' faces when they come to school. I love the people I work with. I have been very fortunate with all of us up here (in the front office). There is no doubt in my mind that they will have my back,” Combs said. “We are the yin to each other’s yang.”

Relationships Matter - genuine investment in each other as people, from the back wall of the school to the front, as teacher and student, as members of a larger community, that is what guides Principal Combs as a leader. Now as the longest-tenured principal on a campus in Judson ISD, she is the principal guru. She may not have all the answers, but when people come to her or when it’s time to invest in the next leaders, it’s clear what makes a great principal.

“Pick your battles. Invest in kids. Invest in people. And the rest will fall into place,” Combs said.

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