Manual High School, home to top debaters Theron and Teague Harrison and a school with a long history of struggle, has picked a new principal: Brian Dale, who currently serves as assistant principal at Bruce Randolph School, another acclaimed "turnaround" story.
Dale will be Manual's third principal in as many years. Joe Sandoval took over as interim principal this school year after an unsuccessful search for a permanent replacement for Rob Stein, a Manual grad who agreed to helm the school when it reopened in 2007 after being closed for poor performance. (Read a New Yorker story about Stein and Manual here.) Stein quit in the spring of 2010; at the time, he was vocal about how it was hard to innovate within DPS.
"That initial search [to replace Stein] didn't yield someone both the district and the community felt comfortable with," says Antwan Wilson, the executive director of post-secondary readiness for the Denver Public Schools.
So this year, they started the search over again. By late February, the thirteen-member committee tasked with picking the finalists had narrowed it down from 54 applicants to two, including Dale, a married man with four adult children who became a teacher after working in business for twenty years.
At a meeting held on February 28 in the Manual cafeteria, parents and community members asked the finalists, including Dale, some tough questions.
How do you measure success?, one parent wanted to know.
Academic growth, Dale answered. Many students in DPS, he explained, come to high school with skills that are below grade-level. "We strive to close the gap," he said.
What's an example of a tough decision you've had to make as principal?, another asked.
Dale talked about a recent meeting he'd had with a math teacher at Bruce Randolph who was struggling in the classroom. For two years, administrators tried to help him, sending him to workshops and providing mentoring. But it wasn't working, Dale said, so "he and I came to the decision together that he was going to find another job next year."
How often do you interact with students at your current school?, a student asked.
A lot, Dale said, explaining that he greets students in the lobby every morning and says goodbye to them outside as they leave for the day. He also makes sure he's visible in the lunchroom. "I think that's critical," he said.
After the Q & A, the candidates left the cafeteria, and the gathered community members discussed what they'd heard. Several said they liked Dale. One woman said she hoped that whoever got the job would have the community's support.
"We can't mess up again with Manual," she pleaded.
More from our Follow That Story archives: "Theron and Teague Harrison win second place, a trip to NY at city debate championship (VIDEO)."