For National Principals Month, we are highlighting school leaders who have made valuable contributions to their schools and communities. A few of the people they’ve impacted the most tell their inspiring stories. This week, Janae Johnson shares about her former principal, Tom Hatch.

Janae Johnson | Student

If I had to describe Mr. Hatch in three words, I would say spirited, fun, and empathetic.

Spirited. Mr. Hatch would be at every event for our school, Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville, NC. He would sometimes be jumping out of his seat at the calls the referees made against our “Dawgs” (Bulldogs), but he was always engaged, whether it was at a school sporting event, a fundraiser, or anything else we had at our school.

Fun. When most principals see students in the hallway taking pictures or making TikToks, they would tell them to get to class, maybe in a not-so-nice way. Not Mr. Hatch. He was the type of principal to jump in your picture or TikTok, and then look at it to make sure it was good. Only then would he make sure you got to class. That’s something our students really loved about him.

Empathetic. Mr. Hatch and the other administrators at our school never liked to see any student down. He was always looking for ways that he could make a situation better, regardless of the circumstances. He has set the bar high for our next principal.

I’m very active in my school and my community. I’m student body president, and I participate in many clubs and organizations. I’m also active in the Miss America organization (I’m the current Miss Fayetteville Outstanding Teen).

But I wasn’t always so confident, and I didn’t always feel like I was good enough. Growing up as an African American girl and attending schools in Cumberland County, I always wanted to stand up for other people and use my voice to help them. I wanted to be a leader, but I didn’t know how, and no one pushed me.

But once I met Mr. Hatch, that all changed. He saw my potential. He recommended that I serve on the superintendent’s student voices group representing all high school students in our district. And he submitted my name to be part of the Fayetteville-Cumberland Youth Council, which was amazing. He saw a light in me that I didn’t quite see in myself at the time, and he trusted that I would represent the school well. I never had a more remarkable principal.

One of our biggest challenges in the Student Government Association was to schedule events. It was difficult for us as officers to find times when Mr. Hatch could attend all of them because he wanted to be present at everything our school did. From sporting events to conventions to assemblies, he was there—whether it was 10 minutes away or two hours away. And that is something that didn’t go unnoticed by the students.

Janae Johnson with Tom Hatch, former principal of Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville, NC.

In April 2021, as a sophomore, I was crowned Miss Fayetteville Terry Sanford (FTS). Last winter, I was our men’s basketball manager. At every game, Mr. Hatch would pull up a chair under the basket to sit and watch the game and monitor the gym. Well, just for fun, I would always steal his seat. I mean it was the BEST seat in the house. After a while, he got tired of standing next to me while I sat in his seat (because I never got up), so he started bringing two chairs—one for the principal and one for me, Miss FTS. Then when I was crowned Miss Fayetteville’s Outstanding Teen in February 2022, I still had my own seat, and he even offered me some of his popcorn every day.

I could go on and on because Mr. Hatch has left such a big mark on me. I have had the privilege of being a BULLDAWG for all four years of high school and having Mr. Hatch as my principal was the biggest blessing of all.

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