Principal Tonya King is not new to UT Elementary School (UTES). Although she only began serving as principal in August, her roots in UTES date back to the school’s infancy. She has been a parent of a UTES student for 12 years, first with her son, who was in the elementary school’s first kindergarten class and more recently with her daughter. “Our son was an energized kindergartener ready to explore the world in a meaningful and nurturing manner,” King said. “UTES was opening and we attended the interest meeting after talking it through we decided this might be the place for him.”
Her daughter followed her son and graduated from UTES last year. As a parent, she enjoyed the learning opportunities her children found at UTES and the assurance that her children were in good hands. “The added bonus was that my children would be Little Longhorns, Pre-K to Ph.D.,” she said.
Along the way, King worked on the PTA board and different executive boards with UTES, always making sure she was kept up to date on the progress being made. After accepting the position, King’s children asked her why she waited until they left UTES to become principal. “I told them, ‘I think it’s kind of a good thing. You had your life there and now I can have mine and when you come back you can visit, do volunteer work and share a few of your life learning experiences.”
King grew up in Dallas and attended UT Austin for her undergraduate and master’s degrees and is currently working toward her Ph.D. in education policy. “I bleed burnt orange,” she added. After beginning school as a business major, she switched to education and began volunteering at the on-campus daycare. King, who comes from a family of educators, at first rejected the idea of becoming a teacher, but once she switched majors, she quickly fell in love with the profession. “I was volunteering at the on-campus daycare in the evenings after the kids had been at school all day and didn’t want any structure and just wanted to play. I enjoyed assisting with homework and trying to get some structured activities in. The payment of enjoyment, not money led me to know that I was pursuing the right career.”
What she enjoys most about UTES is the family feel and the opportunity to see the sparkle in her students’ eyes as they grow. “When my kids came here, I knew I could trust the teachers and that put me at ease,” she said. Since first enrolling her son more than a decade ago, she has seen the teachers grow and learn together, which in turn has extended to their students and back into their families and the community. She also believes the diversity of their students fosters the best possible learning environment. “The sense of family and community here, you can’t just make that happen. Our students are diverse and they’re happy and they take care of one another.”
King, who previously served as principal of AISD’s Dorinda L. Pillow Elementary School and has worked as an educator for nearly 25 years, is spending her first year at the helm of UTES improving the math curriculum, increasing partnerships and collaboration with UT Austin and DDCE, and fundraising. UTES hopes it will begin construction on a permanent building on their sixth street site in the near future. UTES also recently relaunched the Neighborhood Longhorn Program and are looking to get more engaged with NLP with their 2nd through 5th grade classes.
But more than anything, King is just happy to be at UTES. “I love the family feel here, it’s like coming home.” she said. “We have a bunch of lifelong learners and we’re always thinking about what is the next step and how we can improve. It’s great when you have others around you that want to improve themselves as well as help others.”