Hopper assumes principal’s reins at Oasis Elementary School
Donnie Hopper is a lifelong Lee County resident who has both attended and served its public school system.
When the opportunity came to take the lead role at Oasis Elementary School, one of the four city of Cape Coral operated charter schools, he jumped at the opportunity.
Hopper, who had spent nearly his entire 18-year education career in Cape Coral schools, took over the position last month from Steven Hook, who became principal at Pine Island Elementary after 13 years running Oasis.
Hopper was born and raised in Fort Myers, graduating from Fort Myers High School. He attended Edison Community College (now Florida Southwest University) for two years before spending a couple of years as a photographer for the PGA Tour right out of college.
After leaving there, he returned to school at the University of South Florida, where he earned a Bachelor’s in Special Education.
Hopper started teaching at Trafalgar Middle School and Cape Elementary before returning to Trafalgar Middle to become assistant principal and helped open Trafalgar Elementary as an assistant principal.
Hopper’s first principal job was at Cafferata Elementary before going to Gulf Elementary. After working in the district office for a year he became principal at Gulf Middle.
However, he came to a crossroads this summer when he was again facing a new assignment, this one to become principal at Mirror Lakes Elementary in Lehigh Acres.
“The superintendent has called on me many times to take on different challenges. I took the position initially because that’s what he had in mind for me,” Hopper said. “In that time, I was looking for other options.”
Hopper wasn’t too keen on driving roughly 75 miles roundtrip and two hours every day in heavy Lee County traffic, not with three children.
“When Hook left to return to the (Lee County School) district, this opportunity came up. I took a chance, talked to a few people and here I am,” Hopper said.
Hopper said there are big differences between the charter schools and county schools. Among them is the size and the amount of parental involvement.
“The Lee County School District is huge. It’s the largest employer south of Tampa along with Lee Memorial Health System,” Hopper said. “There are a lot of rules and policies in place, many of which are good, but some of which where you could go in a different direction.
“There is a 30-hour requirement for all parents to volunteer at the schools. They could eliminate that requirement because many would still take part,” Hopper said.
Hopper said he has spoken with the teachers and has asked what’s working and what could be improved upon. He said while parental involvement is a strength, it can also be a challenge.
“We want to make sure the teachers can teach. They want to reach the kids and be there for them. Kids sometimes have challenges at home they may never share with parents,” Hopper said. “We want to limit some of that interaction.”
He also said the school needs to do a better job reaching students who struggle the most. They are already working on that, as well as improving campus security so not everyone has complete access to the students.
In his time at Oasis, Hopper said he is impressed with the staff and resources to pull from, as well as the parental involvement both at home and in the classroom.
“It’s fabulous here. You could feel the energy and excitement when you walk on campus. The kids are terrific and the teachers are strong,” Hopper said. “Parent involvement is the best you’ll find in any Lee County school.”