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Working together: Principal of the Year Dr. Latoya Dixon builds relationships with staff, students and parents

When Dr. Latoya Dixon started teaching in 1999, she had a chalkboard and an overhead projector.

“Teaching’s changed so much since I started teaching,” she said.

As co-principal of Knox Middle School, it’s Dixon’s job to stay on top of new tools and resources that her staff can utilize. She calls herself a “teacher of teachers,” but it’s her hard work and ability to build and maintain relationships that won her the Principal of the Year award back in August.

To Dixon, an award like this isn’t about just one person.

“It’s our award,” she said. “It belongs to Knox Middle School — to the teachers, to the students, to the parents… it’s all of us working together to make our school the best that it can be.”

At Knox, everyone works to make sure the school succeeds — even if it’s something that’s not necessarily in their job description. It’s not unusual to see Dixon sweeping up a mess or in the school Media Center chatting with students. Her co-principal, Dr. Mike Waiksnis, is often seen in the cafeteria wearing a hairnet and serving food. Last year, Dixon taught eighth grade math when they couldn’t find a teacher.

“We’re a team,” she said. “We do it together.”

Last year, Knox made several procedural and structural changes that allow the school to operate with more focus. Dixon implemented “the Knox way” to teach kids leadership and life skills, had her staff take steps towards collaborative teaching and gave the school a college focus that required all its students to visit a college campus.

“We’ve worked very hard to try and share the great things that are happening,” she said.

And all that work has paid off. This year, Knox had a teacher in every classroom and Dixon and Waiksnis are taking steps to transform Knox into a year-round magnet school.

It’s not easy, but Dixon throws herself into the work because she knows from experience how education can transform someone’s life. Dixon says she grew up poor in a small town in South Carolina.

She lived in government housing with her mother and two sisters, and her mother worked in a textile mill. Sometimes, Dixon said, education was her only exposure to a world outside of poverty. The experiences she had and the encouragement she received from teachers made her believe in a life past poverty. The education she and her sisters received broke the cycle of poverty in her family.

“Education totally changed the trajectory of our lives,” Dixon said. “So when I work with students and teachers, that’s my goal.”

To Dixon, being principal means ensuring the safety of her staff and students and building relationships. People won’t do things she asks simply because she’s the principal, Dixon says. They have to know her.

“In order for a principal to be good at what they do, you have to like people. You have to invest in people,” she said.

This goes for students and parents, as well. Dixon says she works hard to not only establish contact with student’s families, but also to build relationships with the community at large.

In the 2016-2017 school year, Dixon plans to hone the programs that are already in place. It’s important that Knox be strategic and thoughtful with how the school proceeds.

“We sort of want to sharpen the saw, sharpen the things we’ve put in place,” she said.

Being the principal at Knox has been “an amazing experience,” Dixon says, but it’s the staff who are the real stars. And she says the teachers at Knox are some of the best she’s known.

“I think it’s a tough job, but I think teachers go to the mat every day,” she said. “They’ve got the toughest job of anybody.”

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