Principal cried in second school tragedy
A Winnipeg school community mourns its principal just days after losing a beloved teacher.
Paulette Huggins spent part of the last week of December planning how best to support her staff at JB Mitchell School following the death of Megan Wolff, a kindergarten educator.
“She was… the kind of person who would give you the shirt off her back,” Nicole Kurtz, vice-principal of JB Mitchell School, said of Huggins. “She would be there any time of the day, evening or weekend.”
Wolff died on Christmas morning after testing positive for COVID-19, despite having been triple vaccinated. Paulette did not have the virus when she died on Dec. 29 and the two deaths are unrelated, according to the family.
The double tragedy has been “overwhelming” for those linked to elementary school, Kurtz said.
“The only thing that’s really, really obvious right off the bat when you walk into this school is you see how strong and united a group is… that everyone is,” Kurtz said.
If you’ve visited JB Mitchell School at any time, Paulette was probably in the building, according to her relatives.
Maybe she was overseeing an after-hours “passion project” to spruce up the place, like the two locker murals she commissioned. She may be at a meeting to improve French immersion programs at the Winnipeg School Division, the organization she had worked for since January 2000.
Even at home, she could read an article on instructional leadership or catch up on emails she had deferred to maximize in-person connection during the day.
“It was her life and her passion,” said Gary Huggins, Paulette’s husband of nearly 35 years. “She was always thinking of the children and the community.”
Teaching – and leading by example – has infiltrated his family life, he said.
“We are in mourning right now, and we are growing as we cry, because the question we ask ourselves every day is, ‘What would mum have wanted? “”, did he declare.
Paulette didn’t let the opinions of others influence her decisions, according to Linda Berry, who was vice-principal of JB Mitchell School for five years before Kurtz. Berry has become Paulette’s best friend – a perk Berry said she didn’t expect from work.
Berry said she appreciated Paulette’s trust and called the director’s delegation and empowerment skills a “superpower.”
Paulette established a French immersion program at École Victoria-Albert, a facility in downtown Winnipeg. The province’s largest school division has relied on her for advice and progress in French immersion, according to Berry.
“What a loss for the Winnipeg School Division and for the community,” said Berry.
The division superintendent’s department issued a letter dated December 30 regarding Paulette’s death.
“Paulette will be sadly missed by her colleagues across the school division and by her family at JB Mitchell School,” the letter read.
Paulette’s career, which began as a teacher and evolved over decades to become a principal, helped spark the passion of her daughter Gabrielle. Gabrielle won a provincial award for excellence in education for her teaching.
“I’m proud of the work that (Paulette) did, I really am,” Gabrielle said.
Although she is busy with her job, Paulette has taken the time to be a caring mother and a “fantastic best friend,” said Marissa Huggins, the youngest of Paulette’s three children.
Teachers at JB Mitchell School are expected to return to school on January 6, four days earlier than the students. There will be clinical supports and other resources on site, according to Deputy Director Kurtz.
“It is so sad that we are coming back, we are missing two special and special people,” she said. “But, we’re still a united group and family, and we’re going to lean on and get out of each other.”
About 40 people work at JB Mitchell School, and there are just under 380 students.
Gabby is a huge fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from the Creative Communications program at Red River College in the spring of 2020.
Read the full biography