By Laura Knight
After his retirement from Newton Public Schools in Massachusetts, Hank Van Putten decided that 35 years of teaching just wasn’t enough, so in 2011, he joined Valencia as an adjunct professor of student life skills on East Campus.
“The desire to work with students remains at the forefront for me … the students whom I’ve had the pleasure to work with — they keep me on my toes,” shares Hank.
Hank appreciates the efforts his students put forth to “stretch their learning and reach higher order thinking skills.” A quote that follows his email signature says a lot about his philosophy: experience is a hard teacher — the exam comes first, then the lesson follows.
Hank began his career in 1974 as a physical education teacher at Bowen Elementary School and he remained there until 1993, when he decided to transfer to Brown Middle School as a physical education teacher. During this same time period, he coached boys’ track and field at Newton North High School.
In 1997, Hank was appointed as assistant principal of Oak Hill Middle School, and he served as acting principal at Williams Elementary School for the 2002-2003 school year, before being named as the principal of Oak Hill Middle School in 2004, where he remained until his retirement in 2009.
Hank has devoted a significant amount of his career to working with inner-city children to advance equality and opportunity in their communities, and is a recognized anti-racism educator. “Since the mid-1980s,” he shares that his “interests have focused on the impact of race on the academic achievement of African American students.”
In 2004, while principal of Oak Hill Middle School, his colleague, Patricia A. Kelly, an African-American principal of a nearby elementary school, became the target of racism when hateful graffiti with an effigy of her was painted on a mural at her school. It was the third similar incident to happen in three years. In response, Hank organized a bevy of nearly 600 students to voluntarily march to the nearby elementary school in a show of support.
To further his anti-racism, educator training, Hank worked with the President of Spelman College, Dr. Beverly Daniel-Tatum, a recognized expert on the psychology of racism; and Dr. Jon Saphier, the founder and president of Research for Better Teaching. Hank then taught an educator’s course titled “Active Anti-Racism and Effective Classroom Practices for All Students,” offered by EDCO, a collaborative in the Boston area that serves school districts, adults and at-risk youth.
In 2004, Hank completed Harvard University’s professional development program, Improving Schools: The Art of Leadership and in 2007, was invited to be a panelist and speaker at Harvard Law School’s annual conference, Passing the Torch: The Past, Present and Future of Inter-district School Desegregation.
Hank is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions including the Outstanding Anti-Racism Educator Award from Newton Public Schools, the Newton Human Rights Commission Annual Award, a Horace Mann Grant for “Sharing the Concepts of the Efficacy Approach with Teachers,” and a Charles Brown Fellowship where he co-taught issues of racism with a sixth grade social studies teacher, that culminated with a visit from members of the New England Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Recently, Hank worked as part of the team that brought Dr. Peggy McIntosh, the founder of SEED, to Valencia for a two-day residency. He is also assisting Valencia’s SEED leaders – Rachel Allen, professor of humanities (East), Rachel Luce-Hitt, coordinator of diversity and inclusion (CJI) and Michele Lima, professor of speech (West) – by facilitating monthly meetings for a cohort of approximately 30 faculty and staff members.
He points to the helpful spirit of the Valencia community, demonstrated everyday by staff in areas such as the audio visual department, who he says “have been there at a moment’s notice for [him] on more than one occasion.”
Hank shares that colleagues like Rachel Allen; Terry Rafter-Carles, professor of student life skills at East Campus; Cathy Penfold Navarro, director of the Title III Project; and Vertrilla Hunt, coordinator of job development and placement are faculty and staff members who have made his transition to Valencia “seamless.”
“Folks are welcoming, and that makes for a productive learning environment,” Hank expresses.
Leonard Bass, dean of learning support at East Campus, notes that Hank’s contributions to the student learning department have been and continue to be significant.
“Hank has a thorough understanding of student development and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in College and in life … he continues to be actively engaged in professional development work and often shares best-practices during department meetings.”
“Access to success — the standards of learning along with the core beliefs of the College make Valencia a welcoming place to learn, and I consider myself still in the learning process,” Hank states.
Hank considers his blended family one of his “greatest blessings.” He and his partner Gail have four children and eight grandchildren.
Hank earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Northeastern University and a master’s degree in education from Cambridge College.
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