By Chris Teale (File photo)
T.C. Williams High School principal Jesse Dingle announced late Friday he will resign at the end of the school year, less than two years after he took the helm at the school.
Citing family reasons, Dingle announced his decision to staff last week, and sent a letter to parents and guardians of T.C. students. He said he will return to North Carolina, where the majority of his family lives.
“Sometimes life takes us in a direction that is different from what we planned,” Dingle wrote. “[At] this point in my life, I have realized how important it is for me to be closer to the people who need me the most. Over the next eight months, I will continue to give T. C. Williams my best and will do everything I can to ensure a smooth transition for the incoming principal.”
Dingle arrived at T.C. from John Handley High School in Winchester, Va., where he was principal. He also was principal of two elementary schools in Raleigh, N.C., a middle school in Apex, N.C. and Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, N.C.
When he arrived in 2015, T.C. was celebrating regaining full accreditation from the Virginia Department of Education. But with room for improvement in the school’s math scores in the Standards of Learning tests, the school was only partially accredited in that subject.
Since then, Dingle led his colleagues in celebrating the first graduating class of the school’s international academy, and said one of the biggest challenges has been ensuring success for every student. T.C. is the largest high school by enrollment in Virginia, with 3,751 students in fiscal 2017, and Dingle said the diversity that comes with it was a challenge he embraced.
“We have children who come from so many different places and so many different backgrounds,” he told reporters at a briefing. “We have children who come with no schooling, kids with limited schooling, kids with the very best of the best. Kids from all over.
“Trying to ensure that everybody when they leave here in four years are prepared for their next station in life, be it college, work, career, whatever, that they’re ready for that: that’s a challenge when you have a school this large and that many various dynamics coming into play.”
John Lennon, president of the school’s parent teacher student association, expressed his sadness at Dingle’s departure.
“I’m sorry that he’s leaving,” Lennon said. “He’s been very well received by the T.C. Williams community, and has done some positive things in a difficult situation. I’m assuming he’s going to land on his feet somewhere in North Carolina, and I hope he does.”
Dingle said he was also proud of the relationships he helped build between students, staff and teachers, and said the community spirit surrounding T.C. Williams was unlike anything he had ever experienced before.
“I was surprised at the depth of the caring community that helps people really love T.C. Williams High School,” he said. “I don’t know any other place I’ve been where people love their high school as much as here. It doesn’t matter whether you graduated last year or 25 or 30 years ago, people love T.C.
“Until you’re here and see that and feel that, you never understand just how deep that is.”
In an accompanying letter to parents and guardians, Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley said the search for a new principal will begin next month, and officials will solicit community input on desired qualities in Dingle’s replacement.
Alexandria City Public Schools spokeswoman Helen Lloyd said following that input stage, there will be a nationwide search for candidates, while internal applicants also will be considered.
Lennon said one challenge will be to close the achievement gap between various demographic groups that make up the T.C. student population, and work with the Alexandria City School Board to ensure the community’s needs are being well met.
“It’s easy to say, it’s very hard to do,but I think if we have a principal in place who is focused on that kind of thing, then I think we can address the partial accreditation in math, we can address the fact that 25 percent of last year’s graduating class was accepted by four-year colleges and how we make the biggest high school in Virginia not just bigger — which it’s going to be — but better,” Lennon said.
From Dingle’s point of view, his successor must be willing to be heavily involved, and be a visible presence on campus.
“Come in and embrace this community, embrace this school, embrace these students, embrace these teachers,” he said. “There’s no telling where this school can go.”
Dingle said despite his impending departure from T.C. Williams, he has plenty to offer the education community and intends to keep contributing in North Carolina, as well as at T.C.
“I’m not finished. I get up and run five miles every morning with my dog and my wife, and I still have a lot to give to children and to teachers,” he said. “I don’t think my final chapter has been written. There is still a lot of work to be done between now and June.”