Danielle Petters spent seven years as principal of J.L. Long Middle School before announcing this summer that she would become principal at Dallas ISD’s Spruce High School in Pleasant Grove. She will be its fourth principal in four years. Her hallmark achievement at Long is no doubt the school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) designation, achieved in 2014. Before exiting the East Dallas stage, Petters talked to us about what changed during her tenure at Long, and what is left to accomplish.
IB wasn’t just a piece of paper; the culture changed. We went from, “Seriously? This school, an IB school?” to, “Yeah, this school.”
When I came to Long, there was no student work on the wall, nothing in the hallways because teachers were afraid kids would tear it down, or kids weren’t proud of their work. We changed that mindset.
The way we interacted with them on a personal level did something in the classroom. In the end, our goal is academic achievement, right? The more connected they are, the more engaged they are, the better they will do in the classroom.
Long is in an amazing place. Right now it has such an amazing group of leaders as teachers, they could run a school without anyone leading them. They created the action plan going forward for this year. One of our assistant principals [Chandra Barnett] is stepping in as principal. She’s been there. She knows what’s going on, and the teachers have so much confidence in her. They’re supporting her. They’re helping her. She and the teachers could really push it to the next level — topping the charts consistently with academic achievement. Magnets, charters, private schools — we could compete at that level, and I think everything is in place for that to happen. It’s not due to one person. It’s been the staff, the students, the parents — my god, the parents have been so supportive.
I had been at Long seven years, and I think we accomplished a lot. I was looking for a bigger opportunity. They came knocking in at my door, and I was ready. Pleasant Grove is such a different community, but there are strong parallels. When I came to Long, one of the teachers told me, “I’ve been here for 24 years, and you’re my 12th principal.”
Lakewood is a very strong community and very proud of their community. Pleasant Grove doesn’t have the resources that Lakewood does, but Pleasant Grove is very proud of their community, too. I’ve talked to people who have been there for two, three, four generations.
I think it’s completely doable.
Interview was edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.
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