By Susan Hale Thomas (Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)
His clothes were ragged, but clean. His North Carolina family was on food stamps. It was the little black boy’s first day of school.
The boy, whose nickname was “Brother,” nervously climbed down the steps of his school bus to be greeted by his teacher. She leaned down to look him in the eye.
“Hey. What’s your name?” she asked.
“B-b-b-b-br-Brother,” he said with a stutter.
“You can imagine the first thoughts that started going through this teacher’s mind,” Jesse Dingle said. “It played itself out that way. Not very intelligent, doesn’t have a whole lot of money. ‘Boy we have some hard work on our hands here,’ she must have thought.”
This is how Dingle, announced Monday as the new principal of T.C. Williams, described his entry into the world of education.
Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley introduced Dingle to teachers for the first time after classes Tuesday in the school auditorium. Crawley said after Principal Suzanne Maxey announced her retirement in February, the search was on immediately to find a new leader.
Dingle shared his story with staff. He said he didn’t mean to speak badly about the teacher, but one of the things the event instilled in him was the desire to make sure that when he grew up, no child would face that type of behavior from anyone in education.
“When I began that first year of school, I was a natural left-hand child,” Dingle said. “When I walked out of school that first year, I was a right-handed child. And to add insult to injury, she gave me nickname. It was ‘Messy Jesse,’ because my handwriting was so messy.
“I’ve always dedicated myself to making sure that we saw the very best, and only the very best, in each and every child we meet.”
After a nationwide search, the process of sifting through potential candidates, conducting phone interviews and going on campus visits, Crawley said they were particularly drawn to Dingle after seeing him interacting with students and staff at his current school, John Handley High School in Winchester, Va.
Discussions with parents and students as well as teacher surveys determined what key characteristics would be desired for a new leader: a clear vision, approachability, visibility, trustworthiness, an ability to increase academic achievement and a strong background as a principal.
Dingle completed his doctoral thesis in education at the North Carolina State University in 2005, focusing on cultural competency training for pre-service teachers of all races and ethnicities. He taught for 11 years before becoming a principal.
Dingle served as principal of two Raleigh, N.C. elementary schools and a middle school in Apex, N.C. Before taking the reins in Winchester, Dingle was principal of Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Dingle and his wife have two daughters. Their oldest just passed her nursing boards and plans to continue her studies to become a neonatal nurse. Their youngest daughter is a student at Appalachian State University and is studying to be a speech pathologist.
“In my core, I believe that it doesn’t matter where you come from, no matter who you are, or how you started out. It doesn’t matter,” Dingle said. “There’s something about you that’s going to make somebody say, ‘You can do this. You can achieve.’
“That’s part of the spirit I’m going to bring here to our school. … We’re going to see the very best in each and every child. When they walk in here, we’re going to embrace them. We’re going to love them. Support them. We’re going to give them what they need. And when they walk out of here, we’re going to do the same. We might kick some of them out, but when they walk out, they’re going to know they received the very best they could from us here at T.C. Williams High School.”
School board member Marc Williams said in an interview that he is confident Dingle will be a worthy successor to Maxey.
“I am impressed with Dr. Dingle’s credentials and his belief that every student can achieve at high levels,” Williams said. “Dr. Crawley’s and Ms. Maxey’s endorsement is high praise. I look forward to meeting him.”
Maxey expressed her thanks to staff and said she was sad to be leaving, but she knew T.C. would be in good hands with Dingle.
Maxey presented the new principal with T.C. athletic wear and a bumper sticker, and recommended Dingle take his Handley sticker off his car immediately.
“That’s what we call hookin’ a brother up,” Dingle laughed.
“Remember, sometimes he’ll do better. Sometimes I’ll do better,” Maxey said with a smile.
“Don’t you go messing up my school,” she joked with her successor.