Petal's Daniels to join Ole Miss Principal Corps


When Luke Daniels started teaching at Petal School District six years ago, he was a little turned off by the idea of ever becoming an administrator.

“I think I pictured the role of a principal as kind of being the old-school role, which is handling discipline and making sure the buses run on time,” said Daniels, a math teacher at Petal Upper Elementary School. “That’s part of the job, but I’ve been able to see that job kind of morph over the years into something that is way more focused on instructional leadership – working with teachers and helping them improve, and creating climates and cultures in the building that make success for students possible.

“My mother-in-law is a retired principal, and I worked with her in my first year at Petal Upper Elementary. I think that having that opportunity to watch her do her job kind of turned me onto it. I just didn’t know exactly what the job entailed until I was able to see her do it, and I was able to see the impact she made in that role.”

Daniels, who last year was named the 2017 Teacher of the Year by the Mississippi Department of Education, will soon get an opportunity to make his own impact in administration when he joins the Ole Miss Principal Corps Cohort 10 program for the upcoming school year.

Daniels’ participation in the 13-month internship program began Sunday, when he left for Oxford to take six hours of classes throughout the month of June. In July, Daniels will return to the Petal School District, where he will spend the next year working alongside an assigned principal for on-the-job training.

In addition to the internship, members of the cohort complete 36 hours of online and in-person coursework. At the end of the program, Daniels will be awarded with a specialist’s degree in educational leadership.

“Having worked under some great principals in the school district – Emily Branch, Rob Knight, Gloria Wyatt and Steve Simmons – and so many high-quality assistants, I’ve been able to see first-hand the impact of effective leadership on student achievement,” Daniels said. “While the direct impact of teaching students might not be the same, in that you don’t have a classroom of your own students throughout the day, I’ve seen the impact that (administrators) have on a large scale.

“So while deciding to leave the classroom for an administrative role has been one of the hardest decisions that I’ve had to make – because (teaching) is something that I truly do love – I feel an overwhelming peace in doing so. This is something that my wife and I have prayed through for three years now, and it’s something that she and I prayed that we would be placed in a position where we can both make the most positive impact on the most people.”

Daniels could have taken a couple other options to start his journey to become and administrator, such as a traditional four-year institution or an alternate route certification, but the Ole Miss program seemed to be a perfect fit for him.

“It’s an opportunity to be thrown in the fire and learn from people who have been there and done that, and kind of learn by doing,” he said. “The Petal School District just had five others who have gone through the program over the past five or six school years, and I think there’s very few things more powerful than a glowing endorsement from somebody who’s gone through it.

“So these are all people who I respect greatly as teachers and who have gone on to do great things as administrators.”

Although Daniels grew up in the Jackson area, his first choice would be to stay with the Petal School District after he receives his specialist’s degree.

“I feel like Petal is my home,” he said. “It’s where my wife and I have been teaching in the school district, and it’s where we want to raise our family.

“I feel like being a school leader in Petal, I would have the opportunity to play a vital role in helping continue, and even expand on, the excellence that the school district has become known for.”

Matt Dillon, superintendent of the Petal School District, also is looking forward to Daniels keeping his talents within the school district.

“I feel like Luke has great potential, and I’m very excited for him to have that opportunity, and for what he’ll be able to do to help our district moving forward,” he said. “Luke does a great job inside the classroom, and he’s been a (professional learning community) leader as well.

“He’s done a great job at Petal Upper Elementary, and he’s also had students at the high school, so he has a very well-rounded experience. He’s just a good teacher, and I know that will correlate to him being in a different role as an administrator and having a greater impact on more students and more people.”