Pennell Interview


| Brandon Johnson

Mrs. Pennell Answering a question.

- Thomas Richardson and Adam Nixion

Last week we had the chance to talk with Ms. Pennell about becoming the new Freshman Principal as well as a few other things.

So what’s it like going from working with upperclassmen to going to work with freshmen?

You’re on a different mode of administering when it comes to the focus on ninth grade and that’s what I was really excited about. I have a lot of passion about [the] transition from middle to high school, what can we do as a team, what can I do as administrator what we can do as an academy to support the kiddos of like solidifying good habits, helping them feel connected, and ensuring that they have success like now and in the future. One of the biggest concerns that I have, when I plan administering, is that ninth grade i[s] such a critical year, and lots of kids don’t even make it past ninth grade, or they become like in this sort of whirlpool of failed classes or failed relationships or whatever’s going on at their house, and they don’t have the support that they need and, so, I want to keep that in my focus because I don’t want to lose any kids. I want kids to go forward. And so that’s been kind of invigorating, and it’s not that 10 through 12th grade you don’t have a very crucial role, I just think [the] ninth grade is the place you can hook up and bring them back into loving school are focused on the end, right because post-high school goals are in focus and it’s your last step to that future that you choose.

Do you prefer working with freshmen as compared to upperclassmen?

To be honest, I was over the moon to be a part of the ninth-grade academy, I spent quite a few years serving as a counselor for ninth grade, and I spent six years across two high schools in Oklahoma City, and I love freshmen. but it doesn’t downplay getting to travel with kids. For example, you bring them in in 10th grade, and you’re their principal for three years. It’s easier to be connected in the ninth grade when you’re out here because you have an easily accessible location. But when you’re a principal for upperclassmen, you’re sort of tucked away, at least it feels that way from my experience. I feel like I really can access students easier here. And also I think a lot of kids may not seek out your support as much and at upper levels, as they do in ninth grade, so I just feel really effective and then I can be helpful to students in this role. But I think more than anything, it’s just like feeling like I’m coming home to a role that I know and that I love.

Do you have any hobbies outside of school?

Yes, I absolutely love my family. I have two boys, One’s a junior, and another one who’s almost two. And, I adore my husband and I love to spend time doing outside stuff, we play games and spend time doing that. But beyond just loving my family, I do Pilates and yoga, and I have a pilates machine at home. And I’ve been really passionate about health and mind and body health and I do Birkam and it’s like hot yoga and I just really enjoy decompressing in that way.

How long have you been at Norman North?

So this is…I came in the year 2018-19. So this will be the end of my fourth year.

Did you have a principal or teacher that inspired you?

I had several, my very first job as an art teacher in elementary, and John Addison was [an] absolute joy for every student and was so energetic and positive every single day. And he would literally get down on his knees and get on the level of students and comfort them or love them and just talk to them. And he would come on the intercom and say these really positive things every day. And, so that was one of my very first experiences of thinking, “oh my gosh, that is such an amazing person in the world.” And then Tracy Solinsky, who’s a principal out in Putnam city school district, but she was my principal for my first nine credit academy job as a ninth-grade counselor at Capitol Hill High School. And she’s just [a] legend, she made me feel so like critical to the role and essential and a part of the team, which is what I feel like we’re trying to cultivate here with our counselors and our SRO and our secretary just being a team and no one’s any more or less important than the other person. And Clay Vineyard, He’s a principal out until Tulsa. Greg Frederick was pretty impactful. He was [at] Grant. And of course now in Norman, you know, Pete’s over the moon to me, Liesenfield is [a] legend in my mind, I love his energy and I love how he thinks outside the box, and I think he has a new mind for education. And Kristi Gray is the most loving person I think I’ve met in Norman, as far as people who just take care and support and are in tune with how you feel and to be administrators. You know, you do a lot of tough things and you experience a lot of conflicts, and you’re presented with folks who are desperate for answers, or change, or measure like just a solution. And that can be a lot of pressure and stress sometimes and also too, you might not always have the right the perfect answer and making like when all parties are happy or whatever. And so I think she was really good at supporting us when we were feeling the heaviness of our job. So I’m glad to have lots there are several people that have been a huge inspiration to me.

I want to backtrack to something you said earlier, do the freshmen have their own SRO?

Well, so what we’ve decided in looking at the setup before it was, you know, 4 administrators in one hallway, including the head principal, and the SROs. We’re all in there, right? And so then you come to here, one of my first experiences I was kind of like see have a lot of other people to lean on in there to like to converse with and or to support a student even and our SRO program is really meant for building relationships and there are people in our lives that we want to normalize the care and love a person has when they’re helping you forward. And Antwine is just an incredible person and he loves children he loves serving the school and we mentor kids together. I mean, there are so many times that I hear his counsel and I think “that’s so profound that student needed to hear that” and it’s not coming from just a police officer, It’s just another caring and loving person who has the same goals we do. for student success. And now we’ve got one in one area and Antwine in this area. So he’s not necessarily just for ninth grade, but it’s just location-wise.

Why have you stayed at North for four years, is there anything that’s kept you here?

Theirs some sort of magic in the North, there are a lot of students here that are high achieving and have naturally supportive families, and their backgrounds have allowed for them to thrive in lots of different circumstances. And then there are students who, and I was one who grew up in Norman, that weren’t necessarily afforded the opportunities that could be financially [beneficial] or, you know, families with [an] education background. And I think that I really enjoy being a support for all kids, you know? And seeing growth in every area of people, I care a lot about supporting individuals and helping people be more kind to one another. And also thinking about the bigger picture, like, we’re about making good humans, we’re about being good humans. Yeah, we’re talking about college. Now we’re talking about what are you going to do to survive after high school, or live, or jobs, but really, we want more joy, less pain. I want you to experience great things and love other people and work to make this place meaning the world our community, this state, this country, whatever you want to say; just that it’s making it better. And there are always new things that are coming up like social media or vaping or whatever is going on, you know, that presents, like, a real problem, And so I think seeing the cycles of seeing issues or focuses and looking for completion and seeing positive changes and seeing kids grow. The staff here is a big reason why I stay. It’s a family, and I love our admin team. I drive from Oklahoma City to work here, and that gets old right? 60 miles a day, but I am able to do what I feel like I was trained to do and what I love to do and have passion for in this district.

Do you have any career goals? Say 5 to 10 years from now?

I always am almost a person who thinks too quickly about those types of things, But this was a huge step for me becoming the freshmen principal, I had training for many years to prepare for this role, and I’m really wanting to knock it out of the park. I’d really like to see less students having F’s, and I’d like to see more kids promoting to the 10th grade. I’d love to see more kindness and less behavior issues typically in ninth grade. and I know it kind of phases out as you get older, but I’d like to be a part of that, being an active role in that mentoring, and remediation, and enrichment, and so programs that are within this better possible within Academy. I’d like to concede those through. So I don’t know that I’ll ever be complete in any role, but I’d like to see some of that take hold. And there’s a part of me that has thought, do I want to be head principal? Do I want to have my own school? and it’s definitely something that I keep in focus. I think of all of the things I do to prepare for that. But right now, I’m just so happy to be doing this. It just feels like my opportunity to be a leader for like a school within a school.

And then would you have any advice that you would give to somebody who’s aspiring to be a principal?

Oh yeah, Pete told me something, and it stayed with me, it was one of the most critical things any person that I look up to in any sort of leader position has ever said to me. He said, “I hired you for a reason, and your voice is so critical,  if you’re at a table and we’re having [a] conversation as am admin team, and I’m the only one talking then really, I have no use for folks here, right. I need to hear your voice. You’re representing a person and an experience and a perspective that’s unique. And I chose you.” And so if people were seeking to be in administration you need to do it because you have a purpose, you have a passion, and a vision, and not try to be anybody else. Not try to mold to any other leader, but I just think being your authentic self as a leader is what you would want to focus on and the glory is in lifting others up and not being this boss, and I think sometimes individuals look to be in a position to be a boss, to be a ruler but It’s not that at all.

Do you have a favorite memory, from your time at North so far?

One of my first moments of building community within the team of teachers and colleagues is my favorite. I was able to, I don’t know if you would call hosting, but lead a group of individuals to this Conference in Baltimore, and I was so passionate about finding every representation possible so it was every subject area of electives, fine arts, … SPUD, DEN, there’s so many big-time leaders in our building. And I made little packets, I had like little names and all the specific emojis and I had agendas and I made all these forms for people to fill out when they had a session that they went to. I did extra on the whole thing but I think the takeaway looking back on it is that it was just a time for us to get to know each other and hear our passions and why we do this job and be inspired by each other. So yeah, that was one of my favorite memories.