Regular readers of the Port City Notebook know that I have been frustrated for many years by the coverage of our public schools in the local news media and the extent to which it often falls short of the standards of responsible journalism. A recent article in the Alexandria Gazette, Getting To Know T.C. Williams High School’s New Principal, is a perfect example. Before Dr. Jesse Dingle has even landed in our community, and before he has begun to get to know the students and staff at T.C., an article appeared in the May 13 edition containing five paragraphs based on quotes from one disgruntled former teacher at Chapel Hill High School, in Chapel Hill, N.C., where Dr. Dingle formerly served as principal. This teacher was critical of Dr. Dingle’s leadership style.
Gazette staff reporter Vernon Miles apparently based his reporting on this single account. There was no indication that he attempted to corroborate the information given to him by the one teacher, or to gather additional viewpoints from a PTA president or other parent representative, a spokesperson from the teacher’s association, or an administrator who worked with Dr. Dingle, for instance.
The Gazette article prompted Chapel Hill High School parent (and long-time friend of former T.C. Williams PTSA president Patty Chamberlain) to write the following response, which I share with her permission:
Congratulations to T.C. Williams on the hiring of your new Principal, Dr. Jesse Dingle. I had the privilege of being co-chair of the School Improvement Team at Chapel Hill High School during the tenure of Dr. Dingle.
Prior to Dr. Dingle’s arrival at Chapel Hill High School, there had not been a principal for three years at a time for more than 10 years. The culture and climate within the school resulted in a series of one-and-done principals. It was known throughout the state that there was a small group of staff who, using coercive tactics and lacking a collaborative spirit, made it difficult and challenging for any new leader who desired to come into this wonderful school, full of so many talented students, to make a difference. Many new young teachers also left after short periods of time due to the atmosphere perpetuated by this small group.
Upon Dr. Dingle’s arrival, few students went to sporting events. By the end of Dr. Dingle’s three years at Chapel Hill, the stands were full at events. Students saw the energy and felt the positivity that Dr. Dingle brought, and many teachers did as well. I also saw a strong relationship develop between many key stakeholders in the community and Dr. Dingle. He was supported and respected by parents, teachers, school administration and the school board.
A recent newspaper article in the Alexandria Gazette referenced a “clash with teachers ultimately resulting in two teachers being involuntarily moved.” The fact of the matter is that this decision was made completely by the Superintendent’s office based on accumulated information over years and occurred absent and outside of Dr. Dingle’s knowledge or input.
No doubt you have had a thorough search process that has resulted in the selection of a fine individual who is passionate about education, and will respect every student, faculty, staff, parent, or community member who will walk through the doors of T.C. Williams.