9 reasons to maintain hope in Dallas ISD: Interview with Danielle Petters of Spruce High

DaniellePetters2_Long_DallasISD_h500pxDanielle 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.

“We went from, ‘Seriously? This school, an IB school?’ to, ‘Yeah, this school.’ ”
We made some really strategic moves in how we organized the school and the kids, how we welcomed them into the school in the morning. We changed the name — we didn’t call it “morning duty” anymore. It was “morning arrival.” I told the staff, whatever kids are coming from at home, morning arrival would reset their day. By the time they hit first period, five adults would greet them. The goal was they would be 100 percent greeted at beginning of the class period. Some teachers would have them line up and shake their hands; some gave out hand sanitizer. The students started saying, “Good morning!” back to us, then initiated it.

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.

See all 9 reasons to maintain hope in Dallas ISD


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