Tennessee Tech alumna Tina Francis-Hodges holds her Tennessee Department of Education 2023 – 2024 Principal of the Year award while her husband, Paul, looks on. From left: Son-in-law Stephen Crook, daughter Hayley Crook, Tina Francis-Hodges, husband Paul Hodges, and daughter Ashley Francis celebrate at the Tennessee Department of Education’s Excellence in Education awards ceremony.

 “These individuals are dedicated to providing the best for our students every day, and I am proud to have them representing our great state.” – Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds

Cookeville – The Tennessee Department of Education’s 2023 – 2024 Principal of the Year award winner is not only a passionate educator and proud Cookeville native, she’s also a four-time Tennessee Tech University alumna.

Tina Francis-Hodges, currently the principal at Jere Whitson Elementary School, holds an undergraduate, master’s and two education specialist (EdS) degrees from Tech, spanning across nearly 30 years.

“It never even crossed my mind to go anywhere else,” said Francis-Hodges. “I love learning and I have not had a single bad experience at Tech. I have always felt very supported by the administration and my professors, so I’m proud to be a Tech graduate.”

Francis-Hodges found out she earned the award earlier this month at the Tennessee Department of Education’s Excellence in Education ceremony in Nashville, something she calls “a huge shock but also a tremendous honor.”

Not expecting to win, she ended up jotting down a brief acceptance speech on the back of her checkbook. “That just goes to show how very surprised I was!” she said with a laugh.

As a Tech alumna, the parent of a Tech graduate, a local educator for more than 35 years and a university neighbor – Jere Whitson Elementary School is just blocks away from Tech’s campus – Francis-Hodges said she has had a front row seat to Tech’s continued ascent.

“The piece I see now with President Oldham has been his forward thinking in growing the university, in growing the curriculum and making such a purposeful, intentional decision to put Tech in the forefront,” said Francis-Hodges. “It’s been very gratifying to see the recognition that Tech has received. That makes me proud as a Golden Eagle.” 

As principal, Francis-Hodges has worked to deepen the lasting partnership between the university and her elementary school. 

“We have a very close relationship with the College of Education, as well as the College of Fine Arts and others,” said Francis-Hodges. “We actually host a lot of Tech students who are currently pursuing an education degree and I love interacting with them.”

Francis-Hodges says her advice to Tech students considering a career in education is straightforward.

“This is a job that you don’t do unless you have a love for children,” she said. “It’s not a 9-to-5 job. It’s hard work but, in my opinion, it is the most satisfying, rewarding profession there is. Every day you have an opportunity to make a difference for a child that is going to be a lifelong change.”

And while it’s Francis-Hodges’ name listed on the award, she says credit is due to her faculty and staff at Jere Whitson Elementary School, the support of administrators at Putnam County School System and community partners such as the local businesses who “adopt” area schools through a Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce program.

“I got this award, but my teachers earned it,” said Francis-Hodges. “Education is a team effort and there’s no success if we don’t work as a team. It takes everyone doing their job to make a successful school.”

The Principal of the Year award is only the latest honor in this Tech alumna’s portfolio. Just weeks earlier, Francis-Hodges was named to Cookeville Lifestyle’s 2023 Most Influential People list with a glowing article and magazine spread celebrating her as an “amazing woman” with “a heart ablaze for the children at Jere Whitson.”

Her face even adorns a local billboard with a congratulatory message.

“I don’t know what’s going on!” said Francis-Hodges. “I’m just overwhelmed and honored. It’s not been a bad fall at all.”

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Tech.

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