​SES Principal Dietz: What is a principal?

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Sewanee Elementary School Principal Allison Dietz summed up her philosophy of instructional leadership in five words: “I’m in it with them. I want to be an extra person for the teachers so I can help them.”

Viewed in the traditional sense, for Dietz this means “knowing and understanding the curriculum being taught in the classroom and being familiar with the state standards and expectations we’re supposed to have the students master.” But the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust teaching and the education experience into uncharted territory.

“There are so many things no one ever thought of,” Dietz said. The biggest challenge facing SES in the immediate present is “training students on the procedures of the new normal.”

Ticking off particulars, Dietz mentioned cafeteria protocol and classroom distancing. Visuals posted throughout the school help students understand social distancing and the new ways of doing things. Dietz remarked on the special challenge distancing posed for SES teachers who often take a “collaborative approach to instruction.”

“SES teachers do a great job at building relationships with students,” Dietz said. “This year we’re taking extra measures to help students feel safe and comfortable.” At SES, everyone is required to wear a mask. “We have not had one problem,” Dietz said. If wearing a mask becomes stressful for a student, provisions are made for them to be in a “safe space” where they can take a “mask break.”

Distance learning students participate via Google Classroom, where they receive and submit assignments and can watch the lesson being taught by video. A “safe board” allows students to respond, communicate, and post questions.

Asked about measures to keep distance learning students socially engaged, Dietz said University students were hosting weekly Campfire Meetings via Zoom where the distance learning students could interact and share experiences.

What if COVID-19 cases spike and all education goes virtual? “Teachers are training the in-classroom students on the same program the distance learning students use,” Dietz said. “We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve.”

Although Dietz came on board as SES principal just this fall, she previously served as an instructional coach at the school and as interim principal for six weeks when then Principal Kim Tucker was on leave. Tucker has rotated into the role of county-wide virtual learning coordinator.

Born and raised in Franklin County, Dietz’s first grade teacher at Decherd Elementary fostered fond memories that inspired Dietz to pursue a career as an educator. After receiving her degree in education from Middle Tennessee State University, Dietz taught first grade at Decherd for eight years.

“First grade is where my heart was,” Dietz said. “I love the big reward at the end of the year. They come in not reading and leave reading.”

Dietz and her husband own a business, and Dietz’s role in that enterprise was hiring and training staff. That combined with her four years as an instructional coach in the Franklin County Schools opened her eyes to a new career path. “I realized how much I enjoyed working with adults on an instructional level.” Dietz went on to earn a master’s degree in educational administration from MTSU. She has served as assistant principal at Clark Memorial, Decherd, and South Middle School.

SES plans for traditional fall events have been pushed ahead a few months. “We need to see how the flow goes,” Dietz said. Walk To School Day is tentatively scheduled for later in the semester. A weekly event at SES is the Friday assembly. “The children love the Friday assembly,” Dietz said. “We’ve gone virtual with that.”

Dietz cherishes being immersed in the school and learning experience. “I love being involved. I’ve been in many schools. It’s not often you get the backing of the community and the parent support this community provides. The community of Sewanee as a whole makes this elementary school even more special.”