In 35 days she, and the zoo, will be gone.
After nine years as principal at Skidmore-Tynan High School, she is retiring.
“I’m 62 with no apologies,” she says. “It’s time to reinvent myself.”
Reinvention might adequately sum up her administrative career at the school district.
She started as a kindergarten teacher in January 1977. “I taught until May. That was the longest year I ever taught,” she laughs.
Subsequently, she taught classes for second-, fifth- and seventh-graders.
She left in the early 1990s to teach in Taft and later, Beeville.
But her pivotal moment came in 1998 and she almost discarded it. The Skidmore-Tynan school trustees asked her to return, this time as principal of the elementary school.
“I turned it down. Twice,” she remembers.
Finally, she agreed. Thus began her longest journey at S-TISD.
The elementary school was in something of a turmoil.
“It was five points from being labeled low-achieving,” Holubec says.
In the subsequent five years, the Department of Education named it a national blue-ribbon school.
Concurrent with the national award, the school board hired Dr. Brett Belmarez as superintendent.
While the elementary school now was in the national spotlight, the high school was floundering. Recognizing a winner, he approached Holubec.
“The high school was in crisis,” Belmarez says. “It needed strong leadership.”
Belmarez already was at odds with the school board and his decision to name Holubec as principal didn’t help.
“I took a lot of questioning from the board and a lot of second-guessing from the community,” Belmarez admits. “But, hiring her was the best professional decision I’ve had the pleasure to make.”
In her five years as elementary principal, Holubec had acquired the same reputation she enjoys today: strict but fair, with a priority for the students that overrides all other considerations.
“I’m a hard-ass,” she says.
For instance: students can’t take a field trip unless they are passing all their classes and their attendance is satisfactory.
That reputation preceded her at the high school. Only days after Belmarez appointed her as principal, all but three of the high school’s 25 teachers resigned.
“Talk about a feeling of panic,” Holubec recalls. “But Dr. B (Belmarez) told me it was the best thing that could have happened. ‘Build your school,’” he said, “and I did.”
In the administration building next door, Belmarez was rebuilding the district. Their results are best exemplified not by the district’s retinue of state and national recognitions, but by the waiting list it maintains of parents anxious to have their children enrolled there.
While Holubec says it took about three years for things to settle down, from day one of her reign, student achievement was the school’s driving force. “And not just for the A-students,” Holubec explains. “All of them.
“My job is to give these youngsters a really good grip on their future,” she says. “Some of them love me for it; some of them hate me for it.”
Enter the giraffes.
“What does a giraffe do,” she asks? “He does the same thing I tell students who need help that they should do. Stick your head up!”
Over the years, giraffes have become a symbol of scholastic, as well as personal, achievement.
“If you don’t care,” she tells students who are thinking about dropping out of school, “that’s your business. But I will care for you, and I’ll make the teachers care for you.
“The key,” she says, “is that you build a relationship. You have to convince them that they’re worth it. And sometimes, kids just need someone to talk to.”
Carrying that theme a step further, she instituted a sex education day comprised of eight sections for girls and boys in separate classes.
The only criticism? “Some parents said it should have been started in middle school.”
Holubec’s leadership is not limited to scholastics.
“When I got here the band had 13 members. Today, it’s 75.” A plaque presented to her at a recent band concert reads, in part “…for authoring the resurrection of the Mighty Bobcat Band.”
Such devotion — she calls it a service — takes its toll.
“It takes time,” she says, scanning the top of her desk, covered with the clutter of papers, books, reports and notes.
The giraffes take it all in stride. Often, she assigns a student on detention to dust the long-necked statues.
She bought the first two giraffes in her collection; students have given her the rest.
“I don’t know how to turn them down.”
On Friday, June 15, the tower of giraffes will be dispersed. “I’m going to give them all away. Well,” she pauses, “most of them, anyway.”
“As she leaves, Belmarez says, “I can say she is the best school principal I have ever known or been around in my life.”
Her office soon will be occupied by Justin Crittenden, from the Mildred Independent School District near Corsicana. The board chose him at the end of April from more than 50 candidates.
Holubec and her husband won’t be in town at the start of next semester. They are planning to move to New Braunfels where they will continue their hobby of landscaping and yard work.
“We call it cultivating our sanctuary.”
Her advice to the new principal?
“Interaction. If your decisions are based on what’s best for the kids, you can’t go wrong.”
“There’s only one Patty Holubec,” Belmarez sighs. “You can never replace any teacher of that caliber. You just build on the successes that have been institutionalized.”
Of Crittenden’s task of filling Holubec’s shoes?
“Everyone,” he says, “paints a barn just a little different color.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.