Asia Fuller Hamilton, new principal at Garden Hills elementary, at the school in Champaign on Wednesday, April 22 , 2020.

Listen to this article

It was the simplest of times. Making mud pies in the backyard and drinking water from the water hose. ‘I had a wonderful childhood! ... I had boundaries, but I was free to explore within those boundaries. That freedom fostered a sense of creativity and ingenuity.’ Little did Asia Fuller Hamilton know, that would translate into her work. With a long career in education, Fuller Hamilton is familiar with the federal, state and district boundaries set for educators. But as the new principal of Garden Hills Academy, she’s ready to push those boundaries. ‘We have not yet begun to uncover all of the possible ways that all children can learn and grow. Imagine what can happen when we see beyond the boundaries.’ Fuller Hamilton got personal with staff writer Alexandria Kobryn on sheltering in place with her family and her guiltiest pleasure.

How does it feel to be named the new principal at Garden Hills Academy?

I am very excited about leading again! It allows me to problem-solve in conjunction with teachers on how to best support and advocate for our students on a wider level.

Do you have any plans in mind yet for the elementary school?

In this period of COVID-19, school leadership looks different. Working within a more virtual platform, my initial plans are to spend the time before school begins meeting with staff members and finding out from each of them what works well in the school, so that when school resumes, we capitalize on and highlight those strengths. I also believe that over time there have been multiple initiatives that teachers have become inundated with. I want to tailor our focus on the salient components of education — supporting teachers in continual development of pedagogical skills, increasing content knowledge as content continues to evolve, and understanding, attending to and advocating for the academic, social/emotional and cultural needs of our students. This will become a part of the foundation that we use to set our vision for the next few years.

What do you like to do for fun?

When I’m not teaching, I have been playing games with my children and reading. We have played Hamilton Jeopardy (which is our own version of the game), board games, and I tried to teach them how to play Spades. When I am alone, I like listening to audio books. Right now I am listening to the James Patterson “Alex Cross” series.

Did you always know you wanted to work in education?

I wanted to be a pediatrician when I began college. The physiology course quickly helped me realize that was not going to be the route I took. But, I have always loved working with children. Education became the pathway that I took, and I know it was the right choice for me. There is no other place I’d rather be.

Have you lived in the area your entire life?

I have lived in the Champaign-Urbana area for 20 years. I am a native of Danville, and I spent a large part of my formative years in Jackson, Tenn.

Do you and your four children’s educational paths ever cross? For example, you work at the same school they attend. How do they feel about it?

My husband and I have four wonderful children who never cease to amaze and amuse us. I enjoy watching them grow. They attend the Urbana schools, and I have at least one at every level (elementary, middle and high school). We had a family meeting before I accepted the position, and they were pleased with the prospect of me becoming a principal again — as long as it doesn’t affect us having our game night.

How did you and your husband meet?

My husband and I met at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. We had both volunteered to serve as mentors to area middle school youth. He told me, soon thereafter, that he was going to make me his wife. And, so, it was written. We’ll have been married for 18 years on June 1.

What is the first thing you and your family are looking forward to doing once the shelter-in-place order is lifted?

Since we lead a very active lifestyle with all of the extracurricular activities and sports events, my family has found solace in being able to bond and chill at home. That said, we will miss going to the swimming pool. It is our favorite place to be in the summer. We also miss openly and freely shopping at TJ Maxx and Target.

Do you have any pets, now or while growing up? If so, which was your favorite?

We have a dog named Layla. She is a Labrador/pit mix. She’s 2 and is such a good puppy. Out of all the pets that I have had, she is my favorite.

Tell us about your childhood.

I had a wonderful childhood! I came from a generation where we would play outside all day. I would play tag, run, jump rope and drink water from the water hose. I didn’t have a care in the world! I loved school and did well.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

A guilty pleasure that I have is that I LOVE reading vampire romance novels. I am slightly ashamed to admit that. But I like the novels written by Sherrilyn Kenyon.

Who is your role model and why?

Because people are fallible, I find that there are specific qualities from numerous people that I desire to emulate. I love my mother’s ability to love people in spite of their flaws or mistakes. I love Michelle Obama’s ability to say the right things at the right time. I love Dr. James Anderson’s (dean of the College of Education) thirst for knowledge. These are a few of many.

Are you more of a movie watcher or TV show binger?

I love television. I was a die-hard “Game of Thrones” fan. Since that is no longer running, I like “The Resident,” “911,” “Ozark” and “Murder, She Wrote” with Angela Landsbury.

What’s a song that always puts you in a good mood when you listen to it, no matter what?

I love Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Listening to and singing that song puts a smile on my heart. Whitney was so happy and carefree when she made that song.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received and one piece of advice you’d give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

One piece of advice that I have received is to find the good. It has encouraged me to maintain a sense of optimism in times of darkness and to see the good in people. One piece of advice that I’d offer others is that for every problem that you share, have one sound solution to accompany it. We all have great ideas, and yours might be the one that solves a problem.