Danyelle Wright was pretty excited last week when she learned the news that she was going to be the new dean of students at Sun Prairie High School.
“When I first found out about getting the job, I called my husband at work immediately and let him know. ‘I got the job!’ I was very excited about it,” she says. “I was looking at other districts, too, but to make a long story short – these students really fit who I am at my core, especially with my lens of social justice. I felt like this will be a good fit.”
Last December, the Sun Prairie School Board approved the creation of the position of dean of students. Starting on Aug. 1, Wright will be taking over the position formerly held by Chad Whalley, who is the new associate principal at Sun Prairie High School.
“I will be working with students and teachers on behavior,” Wright tells Madison365. “It’s really very much about relationships. It gives me, as a black woman and a person with a social justice lens, the power to help mold the organization that is positive for students of color. I can make a difference.”
Sun Prairie is one of the fastest growing school districts in the state and serves over 8,120 students in 4K through 12th grade. Sun Prairie High School is a rather large high school and serves 1,700 students in grades 10-12. The school opened in 2010 and is one of the most state-of-the-art high schools in Wisconsin.
“There’s a high number of African-American students in Sun Prairie that I was initially a little shocked by,” Wright says. “There are a lot of Latino students here, too. I didn’t think it was that diverse, but it really is.”
Wright is well aware of the achievement gaps that plague schools in Dane County and she feels as if she could be an asset in helping to close those.
“I’m really malleable – I can be molded to different ways but, personally, I really want to be there for the brown kids,” she says. “I know from personal experience growing up in Chicago and moving to Madison and attending [Madison] La Follette [High School] that I didn’t see anybody who looked like me. It was a complete shift. In Chicago, I had plenty of teachers and counselors who really impacted me that weren’t black but at the same time I had a lot of African American teachers. It was really good to connect.
“I even saw my test scores change when I had more teachers who were black. It was big,” she adds. “Here, it wasn’t like that at all. It was a different type of culture. I personally hope that me being in the building can give kids more of a sense of community and trust and helps them be good scholars.”
Wright will also lead restorative practices at Sun Prairie High School. “For a lot of people there is confusion between restorative practices and restorative justice,” she says. “Restorative justice falls under the umbrella of restorative practices. Restorative practices are more about how the environment is within the classes and in the building.”
Previous to this job, Wright was a special education teacher in Verona for three years. “My licensure is cross-categorical through all of the domains – cognitive disability, learning disability, and emotional disability. I can work with all of those populations of students,” Wright says. “I have a special certificate in ED, because I really hone into students who have emotional disability. In Verona, I worked with many ELL students. That was my passion.”
Originally, Wright is from Chicago, but she tells me she’s not currently a Chicago Bears fan. “I had to completely convert from being a Bears fans to a Cowboys fan because my husband [Alonzo Wright, who works for the Dane County Sheriff’s Department] was a Cowboys fan. To show how dedicated I am, my youngest daughter is named Dallas,” Wright smiles.
Wright is a graduate of Rockford University in Rockford, Ill., and went on to earn her master’s degree from Edgewood College here in Madison. She’s currently pursuing her doctor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s three years in, and if all goes well, she will be done in spring of 2018. “My research is on how administrators can better support new teachers in their induction practices in the lens of cultural competency,” Wright says.
On her road to her PhD., Wright has spent a great deal of time in the classroom. She must really like being in school. “I like being in debt,” Wright jokes. “But, seriously, I like to see myself as a lifelong learner. But I don’t have the desire just to get the accolades and the degrees, I really want to get the experiences and the connections with people so I can network with people to really get my ideas out front and to hopefully help make change. My end goal is to push the system in a positive way because, right now, it’s just not working for a lot of brown kids.”
Has education always been her passion?
“No, I’ve been running from it!” Wright laughs. “You have no idea. My mom [Dr. Cynthia Perry] is an educator; she’s a professor at Edgewood College. My dad is an educator; he taught in Illinois and now he is the academic dean at North Park University.
“So, yes, I’ve been running from it. My bachelor’s degree I tried to go for pre-Med. I didn’t want to be a teacher at all but somehow God led me right back to teaching,” she adds.
Since she found out that she got the job, Wright has been busy getting a lot of work done before the school year starts.
“I really want to meet with a lot of people including all of the teachers and certified staff in the building to talk about expectations. I really want to hear their voice. My idea is to have them right down ten things that they think are issues of discipline in their classrooms and in the building,” Wright says. “I really want to come in and be very familiar with the people, the environment, the culture, and the policies on day one and then to really connect with the teachers and learn how we can be better and really utilize their strengths.”
As the deans of students, Wright will report to the associate principals and principal as part of the administrative team, and be part of the administrative team’s formal weekly meetings.
“I’m looking forward to making new connections. Especially, with people from Sun Prairie and the east side [of Madison],” Wright says. “I feel like it’s a whole new world from the far west side. I really can’t wait to see how I can help and how I can be utilized. I really want to find my niche, my best fit. This new role is exciting.
“My end goal is to be an agent of change … whatever that means for the mission of the building,” she adds. “I’m excited about this opportunity.”