Eric Hillman is a Southeast Polk Junior High instructional coach for science, multi-subject special ed, family and consumer sciences and health. The instructional coaches throughout the junior high and high school were hired to better improve the quality of education for all students.
Hillman grew up in a resort community in Monmouth County, New Jersey, where it was hectic in the summer and calm the rest of the year. He says the area is similar to rural Iowa.
“The elementary school had 158 students, but instead of cornfields we had an ocean,” he says.
In summer, Hillman and his dad would fish for fluke and flounder, flat-bottom fish that live in the Atlantic Ocean. When he was old enough to work, Hillman caddied at an 18-hole golf course.
In college, Hillman met an Iowa woman on the Internet. He and Mandi decided to move to Ames and start a new life together. He wanted to attend Iowa State University to study history. Meanwhile, he worked at Beloit, a residential treatment facility in Ames for children aged 5-13 who have emotional behavioral issues.
“I helped kids that had to be placed outside of the home because their behavior was so severe,” he says. “Soon I started working as a teacher at the Altoona Four Oaks in the conduct disorder room. At that point, I started back at ISU for a master in special education.”
When Altoona Four Oaks closed, Hillman was hired as lead teacher for SEP Day Program in August 2012. Working in these settings is different than the mainstream classroom.
“I celebrate the small victories — watching a student stop and think, and then deciding not to make a bad decision,” Hillman says. “Sometimes I could celebrate the large victories — having a student be the first person in their family to earn a high school diploma.”
Eric and Mandi live in Ames with their two boys, Jack and Charlie, and their chickens — Parmesan, Kung-Pao, Pot-Pie and Nugget.
“We have chickens for the eggs and entertainment,” he says. “They are fun to watch chasing rabbits and chipmunks away.”