‘You have to work beyond sweat’

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Katrina Collins is an amalgamation of a cheerleader and a hype man. 

Skyview Elementary’s new principal also is a social worker coaxing children to admit if something is wrong. Sometimes she’s an event planner coordinating after-school events with local organizations and volunteers.

Collins dashes through the hallways doling out handshakes, high fives or hugs every morning. She’s ecstatic when a kindergartener approaches her in mid-March, points to a classmate and announces, “Hey, I was telling him we’re scholars because we’re thinkers.” Collins replaced the word “student” with “scholar” the first day of school so that the kids believe their education matters.

Collins has vowed to increase homeowner and parental involvement at the elementary school, where 36 languages are spoken and about 87 percent of students are of low socio-economic status. 

 “I love the schools that are a challenge,” Collins says. “These are campuses I call blood work. You have to work beyond sweat.”

After Collins took the helm of Skyview Elementary, she reached out to Town Creek and Forest Meadow homeowner’s associations and created events to welcome parents to the school. She told her staff that parent-teacher interaction was crucial, regardless of language barriers or previous lack of participation. 

“We cannot state, ‘These parents won’t. These parents can’t,’ ” she says. “We’re not going to let our parents be in a state of helplessness, in a state of poor communication.”

She organized fairs two Saturdays in September at The Link and Summer Hill apartment complexes, where many Skyview students live. She hosts meet-and-greet sessions called Cookies with Collins and launched Parent University, an event that offers resources for parents ranging from insurance to community college and martial arts classes.

About 20 parents volunteered to chaperone the elementary school’s Valentine’s Day dance, and about a dozen volunteered for a field trip this May.   

“If the kids feel parents are empowered and equally welcomed, it builds their dignity. They feel valued. Their parents feel valued, and it builds their self-esteem.” 

Collins previously was the assistant principal at Richardson West Arts and Technology Magnet Junior High. She started her career in education 20 years ago. Her energy carried her through her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. 

Born in Tyler, Texas, to a working-class family, Collins was an exceptional high school student who balanced student council, Latin club, honors classes, cheerleading and waitressing at a family-owned Italian restaurant. She graduated in the top 10 percent of her class and imagined being an U.S. Air Force pilot and nurse. 

Her father nixed the idea of his only daughter risking her life in an airplane. Devastated, Collins enrolled at Stephen F. Austin State University with an undeclared major.

“I was always the mother hen. I was always the one who did all the babysitting in my family,” she says. “It dawned on me I was really good with kids.”

She decided to become a teacher, but Collins’ plans once again derailed when she and her then-fiancé learned she was pregnant. He and her family insisted she return to Tyler to finish college. They got married, and she still graduated in less than five years with a 3.5 GPA.

In 2004, after Collins and her husband divorced, she moved to the Dallas area as a single parent. She enrolled in a master’s program in 2005 while teaching full-time and raising her then 2- and 8-year old sons. 

“It goes back to what my mom and dad always said: There’s nothing I thought I couldn’t achieve,” she says.

Collins met a man named Robert, and they married in 2017. One of her sons is in high school, and one is an agricultural business major who’s recently returned from study abroad.

She’s determined to develop the same resilience she has in students with what she calls the hug-kick method: embrace them, then kick them to the finish line. 

“Everything taught me a lot,” she says. “It made me appreciative of the journey. I’m process-oriented instead of goal-oriented.”