Preston Hollow Elementary School principal Pete Chapasko received DISD's Principal of the Year award. (Courtesy photo)

On Wednesday, we reported that Preston Hollow Elementary’s Pete Chapasko received Dallas ISD’s Principal of the Year award. When he took the helm in 2007, the now “exemplary” school had never received a Texas Education Agency rating higher than “acceptable”. In September 2009, the Advocate wrote a cover story on Chapasko and the school’s rapid success.

Since then, Preston Hollow has racked up numerous academic awards, including the Texas Business and Education Coalition Award (which less than 4 percent of Texas public schools receive), the DISD Character Counts Award, the PTA Golden Apple Award and the Texas Counselors Reinforcing Excellence for Students (CREST) Award. The school also earned the state’s Gold Performance acknowledgement in all areas – math, science, reading, writing and attendance. What’s more, the TEA has now recognized the school as one of the state’s Distinguished Title 1 schools.

I called Chapasko to talk about his Principal of the Year Award, and here’s what he had to say:

What does this award mean to you and the school?
I’m so proud of our school. The award is not about me. It’s about our team. It’s the whole school—our students and teachers who work hard every day and the parents and community who are so supportive. I get letters from the church next door (Preston Hollow United Methodist Church) letting us know how proud they are of us. People in the neighborhood have been calling to congratulate us.

What has been your leadership philosophy from the beginning that hadn’t been there before?
My leadership style is, well, you’ve been in my office—I don’t have a desk. I’m not a sit-a-desk-, paperwork kind of guy. I have a conference table, and we meet and we all work together with CILT (Campus Instructional Leadership Team). It’s a collaborative effort.

You came in to Preston Hollow Elementary during a tense time, following the 2006 segregation lawsuit that made headlines. Is there any lingering stigma about that?
I haven’t heard anything in the last two years. I think the reason why is because the parents appreciate how everyone at the school treats the kids. Our philosophy is this—everyone who walks through our doors is treated with the same respect that George Bush and his girls would receive. And that’s all people want.

DISD is doing a lot better than most people think. What does it take to get parents to believe in our public schools even beyond the elementary level?
Really, it’s an individual preference because some of the private schools are religious-based, and that’s why they go there, and that’s a good thing. What we need to continue to do is provide the best possible education. I think that if parents would come to the school and see the classrooms and the programs we’re doing, they would be more than pleased.

How do you think the looming budget cuts will affect Preston Hollow Elementary?
We don’t know until the board adopts the budget. We’re focusing on the kids. The unknown is tough. The one thing I know is this—they’re focusing on keeping the people we need, and that’s the teachers, the good teachers in the classroom. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

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