After six years as principal of Peaks Mill Elementary, Dana Blankenship has announced her plans to retire effective July 31.
She began as principal in 2013 after some life changes encouraged her to relocated from Menifee County. Before her arrival at Peaks Mill the school had gone through eight different principals in 12 years, she said.
“One of the first things I did was paint the room pink so that they knew I planned to stay,” Blankenship said. “There’s really no good reason. I just like pink.”
She began her 33 years as an educator as a high school teacher in Menifee County. She eventually became principal at Botts Elementary before coming to Peaks Mill.
“I like helping kids find a way to tap into their own thinking and learning,” Blankenship said, adding she always knew she would be a teacher.
She brought her passion for education to Peaks Mill and used it to raise the morale of the teachers and inspired an improvement in the school’s standardized test scores. When she arrived in the district, Peaks Mill test scores were in the bottom 8 percent in the state, she said. The school had a state testing proficiency rating of 38 percent.
“When I first came here, I was told, ‘Our kids can’t do that’ a lot, like the kids on the other side of town,” Blankenship said. “It took me a little while to convince them that ‘our kids can do that.’ ”
After fall break she came up with a plan to raise those test scores, but she knew that before convincing the students it could be done, she had to first convince the teachers.
“Kids are easy,” Blankenship said. “You have to get the adults to believe it. Because when adults believe children can do it, you can get the children to believe it.”
To inspire the teachers, she had them read a book called “The Pig of Happiness,” which is about how once an idea starts to inspire others, it grows and becomes possible, she said.
“She does really well with our morale, making sure we’re all a community ourselves,” Heather Sanderson, Peaks Mill special education teacher, explained, saying the principal pushes students and teachers into thinking like a community. “Every year we have a silly motto that brings us together like ‘The Pig of Happiness.’”
Blankenship’s plan to inspire the teachers and students worked. For the past couple of years now, Peaks Mill has finished first and second in the district on the state tests and scored above the state average, Blankenship said. The state average proficiency rating for test scores is 70.5 and Peaks Mill’s current rating is 73.2, she said.
With retirement approaching, she said, “My plan is to sit on the porch and drink coffee with my dog for a while.”
Travel might be in order as well. She’s never been to Maine, Vermont and other states in New England. She would also like to travel to San Antonio and Seattle domestically and England and Ireland abroad.
Blankenship said she’s going to miss the students and staff. When the day begins, she stands in the Grand Hallway between both entrances to the school greeting students. From time to time, students will stop and tell her about things going on in their classes that day, and she said that affects her.
“When they do that, sometimes I have to turn away because I get emotional about that,” she said, getting a little teary-eyed just talking about it. “I’m going to miss that.”
“We have high expectations for our new principal,” said Julene Click, a Peaks Mill first-grade teacher.
Sanderson said the new principal of Peaks Mill has large shoes to fill because of how much Blankenship has done for the students and staff.
FCS Superintendent Mark Kopp said the preliminary phase for the search for a new principal has begun. A survey asking for district and community input is available on the Franklin County Schools website and different social media sites. The survey asks for people to list the top three qualities they believe the new principal at Peaks Mill should have.
“It’s really important to be as inclusive as possible,” he said. “It’s going to be very impactful for the school and the school district, so you want everyone’s input.”
Kopp said the goal is to have a new Peaks Mill principal named during the week of April 22-26.
“We’re going to do interviews that week, and if we can come to a decision we’ll name them that week,” he said. “The ultimate goal would be to get someone hired before May 1.”