A Conversation with Perky Hagadone

By Jodi Rawson
Reader Contributor

Perky Hagadone is celebrating her 40th year in Sandpoint. Since 1978, she’s raised two sons, started a career with the school district, earned two master’s degrees, was hired as the principal of Northside Elementary, became a grandma, and fought victoriously against cancer. 

Thankfully, my kids go to Northside, so I see Ms. Hagadone several times a week. She is like a mother hen, stretching out her wings, making sure the kids are getting picked up safely and aren’t running into the parking lot. With sharp eyes, she is passionately aware of everything going on at Northside Elementary.

Jodi Rawson: What do you like about your job?

Perky Hagadone: Northside is awesome! The families that feed into Northside are part of the team. When I stand in front of the school, parent support is the first thing I talk about. We could not do it without the parents. We work hard with the kids on having good citizenship with old-fashioned manners.

At Northside we want to help the whole child. We have cross-country skiing, chess tournaments, a mentoring “buddy system,” an active PTO that funds numerous field trips, tech class with coding and 3D printing and outstanding faculty.

I love this school district. There is a lot of collaboration that makes every school great. I have worked in all of the LPOSD schools and every school has its different personalities and gifts.

JR: Tell us about your purpose-filled world travels.

PH: I have always loved to travel. When I was in my early 20s at Whitworth, I went on two six-week canoe trips totaling 1,500 miles, from north of Yellow Knife all the way to the Arctic Ocean, with nothing but topographic maps to orientate us. It changed my life. It made me realize how precious our remaining wild nature is, and it also spurred my interest in science. I love teaching science.

When I got my second master’s degree through Miami University, it was environmentally based, so I said, “Sign me up!” Through that I was able to travel to three global hot spots. One was Belize, working with the coral reefs there. In Australia, I dove for the first time in scuba gear with sharks and turtles, studying reefs there. Then I went to Guyana and worked with the indigenous people, the Makushi tribe, on preserving their rain forests and sustaining themselves.

I also take middle school kids to Costa Rica with Marcia Marine (middle school teacher). This year will be our eleventh trip. It is not a vacation. We have to work. The kids relocate leatherback turtle eggs to a protected sight and then study and catalogue the hatchlings, working alongside a biologist.

JR: Tell me about your book.

PH: It is the longest-running writing and illustration process known to man. I have been working on it for 20 years because I am either full-time working, playing or traveling.

I want to project positivity and internalize positivity — that is the emphasis of the story. There was a lot of depression in my nuclear family, so it is really important to me to work on being positive.

This book is about a chameleon that starts out in black and white, and she is not happy with her life. She runs into several Madagascar animal characters along the way. Madagascar is my happy place, and on my travel bucket list. Each of the animals offer the chameleon a new perspective and a new color. As the story goes on, she goes from black and white to Technicolor.

My hope is — and I am just putting it out there — is that I will have it done by next fall. I only have six illustrations to go.

JR: You are now cancer free! What has battling cancer been like? What advice do you have for others?

PH: I got diagnosed a week before Christmas (2017), which was not fun at all. Then I had to wait 21 days to find out what type of cancer and what my treatment options were. My biggest advice is that you have to be your own advocate. I wish I had taken that advice early on (demanding an earlier consultation) because 21 days about killed me.

Then I met with a wonderful oncologist, and Cancer Care Northwest was phenomenal. I had all my options laid out for me at that time.

Another piece of advice is that it is hard for our loved ones, so I just took this honest route — I told them everything. It is hard to hear, but in the end it is more comfortable. You are not walking around on egg shells. You can ask people for help, and you can be there for them because they know. Everyone does it differently, and it depends on what your comfort zone is, but it really worked for me to be honest about it.

I said, “I will take any date” and received an opening. I had five days to set up my house and staff, and with a lot of help I got it done. “I want it out,” was my mantra. There are a lot of things you can do if you have breast cancer. You know, there is a gamut of options… I am happy with my decision.

Jodi: You are pretty open about being raised by a father suffering from mental illness…

PH: Personally, I hate that it is called “mental illness.” It should be called “a chemical imbalance.” People cannot control their chemical imbalances and are not intending to do what they do. These imbalances are caused from genetics, trauma or toxins. They don’t want to live the way they are, but are not receiving help.

I don’t think we do a good job in this country. There is too much judging. My dad was judged. You know my parents had a million friends before my dad started displaying symptoms, and then they had two people that stuck with them — that’s it.

6. Your oldest son, Zach, co-founded the Reader in 2004. Tell us about him.

PH: One thing about Zach is he has always been interested in history. In kindergarten he studied World War II on his own. When he was in sixth grade he started Sagle News and began investigative reporting. He wrote for the Bull Pup Press in middle school and the Cedar Post in high school. He has always been a great artist. Since he could hold a pencil, he was drawing or writing.

Now, Zach is getting his master’s in history at WSU in Pullman. He wants to become vastly more educated and have a broader sense of the world. He is an award-winning writer and a wonderful dad.

Oh, and he just started sculpting! When I visited him for his birthday, he sculpted a John Steinbeck for his lovely wife. We all sat and drank wine and sculpted. It was super fun.

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