Walnut Hill Elementary celebrates school culture one year after Dallas tornadoes

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On the one-year anniversary of the Oct. 20 tornado that destroyed his campus, causing the relocation of the school to Tom Field Elementary, Walnut Hill Elementary Principal Phillip Potter recounts how his staff was fundamental in rebuilding trust during the transition period to their temporary campus.

What do you celebrate on this anniversary?

I celebrate that we have a great school culture and that we have great people in Walnut Hill Elementary, and that’s really what’s made this work. 

We definitely feel like we’ve been through a lot of challenges, but the process has gone well. Our teachers and staff have created conditions for it to go well. They’ve prioritized relationships. They’ve prioritized student achievement. They’ve taken care of each other. Our community and our parents have faith in us. They’re staying with us. Even Though we’re learning to juggle online learning, and we’re prioritizing safety and student achievement and excellence, and at the end of the day, that’s 100% of what it’s about and that’s allowed us to make the changes we need.

At the end of the day, we love our school building, but it’s not about that. It’s about the fact that the community of kids, parents, educators and stakeholders is what makes up a school. We can love things and we can love buildings, but the work is about people and not about anything else. And the people endure. It’s easy to get distracted in the work, and this really centered our focus that our work is to care and excel for our students and our families and our staff. That’s what’s going to make our school far outlast any of us. 

What were the most important factors that made the transition successful?

The pieces that make all of this work are the committed staff and the commitment of the families. That’s it. The parents are so committed to the school. And if I didn’t have this staff, it wouldn’t have worked.

We had next-to-none turn=over of teachers last year. At the end of the day, the staff and the teachers worked really hard and they believed in this community and believed in what Walnut Hill Elementary stands for. That culture breeds motivation. We established a great culture, and we just put it in a different place.

I’m also proud to share that we have a bright future ahead. Walnut Hill Elementary is on track to becoming a Transformation School. The focus is on intentional languages and leadership. There’s a bright future ahead. We’re looking into offering elite public education and being very competitive. Not only have we made the transition, but we have a very bright future to look forward.

How did Dallas ISD and the Dallas community helped after the tornado?

School Leadership made decisive decision making to create space for us to step in and do the work for kids. This department has also been huge in providing ongoing support.

We’ve also had a lot of facility upgrades. We have new paint, Maintenance and Operations have been wonderful. There’s been lots of facility upgrades: Fencing, aesthetics, security and safety upgrades that have been really instrumental. They are committed to make sure that we can make upgrades and provide a great environment for our scholars.

Lastly, United To Learn and the Dallas Education Foundation have been great organizations that have walked with us through the transition process. 

All of these institutions have been instrumental because they have helped us create a space for us to do the work that we need to do for kids.

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