By now, most high school parents know that Peggy Dillon is the new principal at Lake Highlands High School. Many find this news disorienting. People barely had time to adjust to Walter Kelly (who recently moved on — that was quick!) And frankly, isn’t Ms. Dillon rather surprisingly — let’s face it — female?

It’s true, this has never happened before. Dillon really is the first woman in the captain’s seat at LHHS. We already know she is a qualified professional and an excellent educator, or she wouldn’t have passed muster with the hiring gurus. But naturally, neighbors want to know more.

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First question: Is she married?

“I’m single, no children,” she says, sounding positively cheerful about it. “But I have lots of nieces and nephews.”

She is the daughter of a Baptist minister, one of eight children. (Dillon was born seventh, for those who study birth order personality traits.) She grew up in Mesquite, graduated from North Mesquite High School, and went on to UT-Dallas.

“After growing up in a big family where we all shared, I wanted to have my own place and my own things.”

Her first career was in real estate. Even though she was successful, she felt something was missing. Eventually she realized she always loved school and wanted to be around kids, to find a way to “give back”. Her childhood memories of helping at camp and Sunday school led her to pursue a master’s degree in education at Texas A&M-Commerce.

Dillon’s first teaching job was at Lake Highlands Junior High. When she walked on to the campus for her interview, she immediately felt a connection to the school. What was that feeling, I wonder aloud to her, something in the angle of the afternoon sun? She laughs. “There wasn’t gold dust in the air, but there was a feeling of true community and caring in the building.” She knew the red, white and black colors really meant something, and she wanted to be part of it.

Since that time, Dillon has stayed within Richardson ISD. As assistant principal at J.J. Pearce High School, she oversaw the master calendar that included sports, music and fine arts events. Her close work with the coaches and fine arts teachers at Pearce provided an excellent foundation for her future role at 5A Lake Highlands.

“Educating the whole child is extremely important,” she says. “I always ask, ‘Are the kids getting what they need?’ We need to preserve the integrity of all extracurricular programs, and make sure the students have some kind of connection to this building. In high school that becomes more important, as they get more interested in special niches.”

What was key in achieving exemplary status for Westwood Junior High (where Dillon was principal from 2006 through spring 2010)?

“Number one, Westwood has a staff that is committed to the success of every single kid — and they are willing to go above and beyond. They know how to reach and engage kids, and build relations. Next, we set a culture within the building of an expectation of excellence for all students. And the instruction piece: Teachers are instructing from bell to bell. We have a captive audience from 8-4, and we use all that time for teaching.”

(Full disclosure: My son just finished eighth grade at Westwood, so I am already a fan of Dillon’s.)

What will she emphasize in her first year at Lake Highlands?

“We need to start looking at 21st century skills for our kids,” she says. “It isn’t enough for teachers to have access to technology to help with grading or tasks, but technology should be integrated into the curriculum to enhance learning. We want students to be global thinkers, to learn leadership, and to work effectively in teams. Teachers should model these skills.”

At this writing, Dillon is looking for a residence in Lake Highlands. “There are some amazing things going on here. I want to continue the standards of excellence that have been set, and the rich traditions. Lake Highlands isn’t like any place else I have worked.”

When she moves here, she won’t be entirely alone.  She owns a rescued greyhound named Magnum. Let’s extend to both of them (principal and principal’s dog) a sincere and gracious welcome to our neighborhood.