December-January 2016 Life Changer: Kathy Willett

December-January 2016 Life Changer: Kathy Willett


Shaping the minds of young learners is a passion for Kathy Willett. She has spent the entirety of her career in Hopkins Public Schools dedicated to enhancing the preschool program and ensuring students are successful. She began her work with the District over 20 years ago as a preschool teacher. A lifelong learner herself, Willett said she most enjoys hearing students’ success stories long after they have left her preschool classroom.

“I would have students who come back to visit me, and they said they always felt welcome. I always cause quite the commotion when I walk past a group of kindergartners who had me as their preschool teacher,” Willett said. “They all jump out of their line in the hall to stop and hug me or say hello. I love that!”

Willett strives for success for both her students and the preschool program in Hopkins. Her professional expertise was critical in the early stages of the Stepping Stones program at Meadowbrook Elementary. She helped build up the program to the point where a second preschool classroom was needed to accommodate all of the families vying for a spot. 

“Kathy is conscientious and caring,” said Amy Guthrie, lead teacher of Tanglen Elementary’s Stepping Stones program and Willett’s longtime coworker. “She is dedicated, informed, and compassionate. We are lucky to have her.”

Background: Kathy began her career with Hopkins Public Schools in 1992 right after she completed her undergraduate degree. She started as a Kaleidoscope Preschool teacher, where she taught for seven years. After a brief job change, she returned in 2003 as the lead teacher at Meadowbrook’s Stepping Stones program. She remained in that position until August 2016 when she was hired as the District’s preschool supervisor.

What do you love most about working at Hopkins Public Schools? The staff members at Hopkins are professional, dedicated, supportive, and adaptable. I love the diversity of our families and the cultures represented in our schools. You can feel the sense of community from the moment you set foot in the hallways. Each elementary has its own unique feel, and I think that feel represents our dedication to our families and the children we serve.

Proudest moment? I started as the lead teacher at Meadowbrook Stepping Stones when it was in its second year in the school. I nurtured and helped it grow to the point where we needed to expand it to accommodate all the families trying to get in. Meadowbrook Stepping Stones also won the Sun Sailor Reader’s Choice for best preschool in Golden Valley, which was quite an honor!

Teaching philosophy? ‘Be silly, be honest, be kind,’ from Ralph Waldo Emerson. I also love just about any A. A. Milne quote, such as, ‘You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.’

Stats: • Bachelor’s degree and licensure in early childhood education, University of Wisconsin-Stout. Early childhood special education license, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. In her current role as the preschool supervisor, Kathy oversees the three preschool programs in the District — Stepping Stones, Ready 4 K, and Kaleidoscope.