Dr. Julie Hatling Principal of the Year

Belle Fourche News

   Even on the coldest of winter days, the school day at South Park Elementary in Belle Fourche begins with warmth. It’s a good beginning. Principal, Dr Julie Hatling makes sure of that. She and staff members greet the children as they file into the building’s sunny front entrance.    Children arrive by bus, some walk to school, and others are delivered by parents or grandparents. All are greeted by staff who offer friendly smiles, high fives, conversation, and hugs.

   Dr. Hatling knows that affirmative relationships form the foundation of effective school administration. She is proud that South Park students see the staff as trusted adults who provide emotional nurturing as they teach. 

   It’s a reciprocal arrangement. “Teachers and support staff are professionals. They take on superhero roles”. She said as she explained how these individuals personalize the school experience for children and how they go above and beyond every day.  

   Dr. Hatling also knows that an effective school must have a sound infrastructure to keep children on track to achieve their learning goals. She is well prepared for the task. Prior to her appointment as principal, she was the district’s curriculum director for three years. She became principal in 2018. 

     Dr. Hatling is enthusiastic about choosing curriculum to meet specific goals. “Every year the teaching staff and I determine goals.” Learning progress at South Park Elementary involves data analysis such as test scores to measure academic progress.  “Last September the South Park team wrote goals to improve K-12 reading scores. The assessments showed significant progress across three data points.” Scores that point to the teachers’ expertise. Dr. Hatling noted. 

  All things considered, when Dr. Hatling received the news that she was the recipient of the South Dakota Elementary Principal of the Year, she alone was surprised. She learned of the award in a school assembly as kind of a giant surprise party attended by a large crowd of students, faculty, and members of her family, all of whom were in on the surprise. 

   The award nominations and decisions are made by the executive board of the South Dakota Association of Elementary School Principals.

   Humble, by nature, Dr. Hatling was quick to acknowledge that the honor was a team effort and that there are many other qualified elementary principals in South Dakota. “We have a very supportive team in Belle Fourche. Dr. Willard is encouraging by nature. I’m honored to be recognized and blessed to be part of this school district.”

   She is grateful to the Belle Fourche School District for the opportunity to work in an environment where respect for school personnel, students, and parents makes the job even more fulfilling. She will miss Dr. Willard, but looks forward to welcoming the new superintendent, 

Mr. Orion Thompson. 

  A wall in Dr. Hatling’s office is a place where her degree certificates are modestly displayed. Most recent is a Doctorate from USD with dual specialization in School Superintendent and Curriculum Director (2021), A Master of Science from BHSU in Curriculum and Instruction with K-12 Math Specialist certification (2013), a Degree from USD in PK-12 Administration (2009), a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from BHSU with a minor in k-12 Vocal Music Education (2005). 

   The foundations of these significant educational accolades began with Dr. Hatling’s early home school experience, where her mom (Rosina Owen) instilled a love of learning and school at an early age. She graduated from Rapid City Christian.  

   Dr. Hatling continues to be a life-long learner and advocate for the Belle Fourche School District. She is active in several professional organizations that offer resources to schools and children such as, Families First, The United Way, and Teammates. Currently, she serves as vice-president on the board of directors of the South Dakota Association of Elementary School Principals. 

    Away from work, Dr. Hatling enjoys family life and other activities.  She, and her husband Brandon have lived in Belle Fourche since 2006. The couple has two children, daughter Reagan, a 10th grader, and son, Owen in 7th grade. Family activities include camping, hiking, and spending time between her family’s ranch north of Alzada as well as the family lake cabin east river.  

   Empathy is Dr. Hatling’s mantra. “The main thing to keep in focus is that it’s the kids’ experience that counts.” The job of an elementary principal requires preparation, and a myriad of responsibilities. In many ways it is the same as the job of a corporate office executive (CEO). “Some days are difficult and long, but all days are good.” Dr. Hatling said, then added, “We have much to celebrate in our Belle Fourche Schools.” 

A staff meeting, left to right Morgan Bowar, Brandi 

VanSickle, Dr. Hatling, and Toni Long Beacon Photo