Staff Spotlight: Joe Hopper, Director of School Safety
We recently caught up with our Director of School Safety, Joe Hopper, to discuss his experiences before Options, and his perspective on our dynamic and family-oriented approach to alternative education. Having joined the Options team in August 2019, Joe Hopper leads school safety & security initiatives for Options Schools. Pictured above, Joe chats with some students between classes at Options Carmel in January 2020.
With two campuses in Westfield and Noblesville, and as the fastest-growing virtual high school in Indiana, big things are happening every day in the lives of the students and staff at Options.
If you’re interested in learning more about Options, contact us today!
What was your previous work experience leading up to Options?
Prior to Options, I spent 16 years in the US Army and am still on active duty with the Indiana National Guard. Over that time, I managed an armory and held several different job titles, working and mentoring soldiers, which has greatly translated here at Options.
It’s amazing how alike soldiers and students are. They crave gratification, they want leadership, and they want somebody who cares about them. If you can do those things for them, it’s amazing how they can gravitate towards you and want to succeed to make you happy.
Mentorship & safety are big roles for you here at Options. Can you describe this more?
In this day and age, we need safety in schools. For us, our goal here at Options is to build relationships with students and get them to do their work to succeed ‒ and safety is the first step in making this happen.
It’s amazing how fast you can build relationships with students here. You can watch students who dropped out of other schools or struggled a year ago, walk across the graduation stage, and know that you had a small part of that, and then to have them thank you ‒ it’s a feeling like no other.
What is the on-campus bond like at Options?
To see how close everybody is here and how fast we accept new employees is crazy. I didn’t know anybody here when I started. Now, I have great friendships and working relationships. Everyone is on the same page when it comes to caring for the students. They come first. We will go out of our way to push students past the graduation line ‒ on both an educational and personal level.
We go above and beyond. We have staff members who have bought clothes and delivered food to kids and their families. When you have people like that, it’s easy to build relationships and maintain a loving and caring environment.
Do you have an encapsulating student story?
Options is a family-oriented place. I have an uncle and a father-in-law who work here, and my grandmother was also a substitute teacher here. So I always heard about a family atmosphere and how the kids will change your life.
After coming back from Kuwait and starting at Options in 2019, I didn’t know what to expect. I returned very hard, cold-hearted, and deep in the military mindset. But within a couple of months, I really connected with the students who were struggling. I always went home thinking about what I could do for these students.
A student once told me he was thinking of suicide before I started. Because I cared for him and we developed a bond, he knew he could pursue his future. Now he’s in college. It’s one of the best feelings.
There was another student who was once in my office. She was having a bad day. I just talked to her and told her how proud I was of her grades. She started crying and I was like “Oh no what did I say?” and she looked at me and said, “I’m 17 and my dad has never told me he’s proud of me. You’re the first person who has actually cared about my grades.”
So, to be a part of that, and to realize that the family atmosphere I’d always heard about was true, I’ve never felt anything like it in my life.
What was the transition like from the National Guard to Options?
I’m still with the National Guard, so I’m deployable and continue to help out with incidents in Indiana. I do my one weekend a month and bi-annual training. I’m part of a unit where we track soldiers’ movements in and out of countries, war zones, and make sure their entitlements and benefits start properly. I spent many years as a military policeman and was also a squad leader. I’ve done everything from supply sergeant to being an admin guy for the military and I’ve loved every minute of it.
If you look around my office, kids have gravitated to that and they’re proud of it. They understand it. That makes me proud to still serve our state. It’s a different type of serving here than in the Army or the National Guard. But to come in on Veteran’s Day and have every kid in the school sign a flag and leave notes all over my office, it’s a really proud feeling.
Does your experience before the military help you relate to students?
The military has given me everything I’ve ever had. Before that, I didn’t know what I was doing with my life. The military gave me direction.
It’s amazing how the stuff that has gone on in my life correlates with the students here. To share real-life experiences and to tell students that they are going to come out better and to share what happened to me, to watch it click in their face, has helped me reach these kids. Our students realize they can ask for support and they can overcome any challenge.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I’m huge with my family. I have three kids who are involved in sports. My daughter plays basketball and softball. My son does baseball and is getting into basketball. My youngest son just turned 6, and he’s interested in baseball. So we are constantly doing family stuff, and when we’re not, we try to spend time with my parents and my in-laws.
Having a strong support system helps me be strong, relax, and let go of some of my problems. It means all the difference in the world.
What is unique about the new Options Westfield campus?
I think the Options Westfield campus provides hope. We have a building that our students can be proud of. This school was built for us. It was designed for us. It reminds students that we’re going to be there for them and their kids.
We’ve set the foundations. I think it provides hope for kids in Westfield, IN, and the surrounding areas who may be struggling at their current school or with their mental health. They know there’s a school that specializes in helping them. It also gives our staff hope. All the time they’ve invested into Options is paying off, and they have a place to call home.
Purpose. Difference. Achievements.
After 16 years in the Army and National Guard, I decided it was time to spend more time with my family. I just didn’t know that this decision would give me this family here at Options.
‒ Joe Hopper, Director of Safety, Options Westfield
Whether you or your student are interested in alternative schooling or virtual learning, we warmly welcome you to be a part of the Options family!