52 Faces: Betty Noble Starnes, Hillcrest School founder

52 Faces Betty Starnes.jpgOne of the 52 Faces of our Community, Hillcrest School executive director Betty Starnes. Friday 07-22-16 Tim Fischer/Reporter-Telegram Tim Fischer

 
Professional and community involvement:

Midland is a wonderful community, rich with a philanthropic spirit, and a true sense of “can do-will do.” I have been privileged to serve and to give back to a number of organizations that are truly making a difference for individuals in our community, such as: the SHARE board of directors, Association of Fundraising Professionals board of directors, a deacon of the First Presbyterian Church, ADDAPT board member, International Dyslexic Board- Dallas Branch, board of directors, and Midland Panhellenic board of directors. As an educational consultant, I have been honored to speak to several different school districts in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. This is a labor of love. Watching teachers get excited about strategies and collaboration is the best part of conducting workshops. As an accreditation team member for Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, I have been privileged to visit many other schools and learn from their programs.

Why did you decide to found Hillcrest School?

There are some days when I think I was just born into it; my mother taught special education all throughout my childhood. I have distinct memories of her tutoring different students at our kitchen table or conducting “summer school” in our backyard, and whether or not I realized it, growing up in a home like that inspired me to find my own way of serving those who learn differently. They need to sit side by side with other students experiencing the same challenges and to have teachers who understand how difficult a school day can be when faced with traditional methodologies. I think I also saw a problem, and knew I could create a solution. Children with learning challenges don’t need a “one size fits all” education; they need individualized plans and classrooms and that was a tangible issue I could address. From those initial 18 students to the 80-plus enrolled today, more than 400 students have had an opportunity to learn in a way that matches their learning style, experience academic growth and truly love school.

What talents and skills do you share with the community as the Hillcrest School executive director and as a community volunteer?

Being the executive director of a small private school like Hillcrest School means you have to be able to wear any hat at any time. Running this school for the last 23 years has taught me that flexibility is paramount. While we aspire to provide predictability and  structure for students to grow and learn, each student is unique and each situation is unique. If you know that going into every situation, it makes change a little easier and gives you the ability to look at challenges from every perspective.

I’ve also learned that you can’t do it alone. Just as each student brings diversity, the teachers, board members, family and friends have all given parts of themselves to make Hillcrest School better for the students who need us. Nothing in life really goes as planned, whether that’s an unexpected opportunity to speak to another school, or to help train others about dyslexia and ADHD, or whether that means an opportunity to serve on the board of another nonprofit at a moment’s notice; flexibility is my friend!

What unexpected lesson have you learned while serving as a volunteer and working with young children?

When children are involved there will always be unknown variables. The unexpected lessons come from our students. Each student who comes through Hillcrest School has a lesson to teach me. They inspire me with their strength in overcoming hardships. They are required to have extra perseverance to reach the goals that might come easily for others. I also think that this job has taught me so much about compassion; that skill has transferred into all aspects of my life, but compassion is something that everyone deserves and this experience has inundated my heart with compassion for the students of Hillcrest School and for those who do not have the opportunity to attend.

In addition, I’ve learned that through my time volunteering you can’t expect things to go your way. In service to others, whether that’s at school or out in the community, it’s about the students’ needs. Needs are always changing. It seems like minute to minute the people around you need different things. I delivered church bulletins to the nursing home for quite some time and I learned to really go in with no plans and no expectations because there were weeks when I dropped them off, said hello, and was on my way, and then there were weeks when I needed to sit down and just talk and get to know someone for an hour. You never know when someone is going to need you, and being flexible allows you to respond.

How long as Midland been your home and why have you stayed?

I’m a West Texas girl, living in Colorado City and Odessa, and finally settling in Midland for the last 15 years. It is home, it is beautiful, and it will forever be the place where my dreams have come true — the dream of raising my own three children plus more than 400 Hillcrest School students. How could I ever give that up? Midland is, without a doubt, a one-of-a-kind community for nonprofit organizations. I have friends and colleagues all over the country and no city, large or small, has the philanthropic spirit of Midland. Our corporation, individual and foundation support is incredible and none of us could accomplish what we do without their support.

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