Empowering a community

As a child, Parkside Elementary Principal Dianna Newman moved around a lot. Her father was in the Army. She moved to the United States when she wasn’t quite 5 years old. “I didn’t know any English,” she said. “This was at a time when schools didn’t know what to do with students who had language barriers. My dad sat with me at the kitchen table every day. He labeled everything in our house so I could learn the words. He was my first teacher.”

That experience led Newman to become an educator. “I realize now that my dad was my first teacher,” she said. “Because I had such a valuable experience, it is so important that I now stand in the gap and empower other parents to do the same for their children. The investment my dad made in my with his time and his presence ignited this passion for me to bring it forward and empower others.”

The word ‘empower’ adorns the wall near Newman’s office. “Empowerment is one of the strongest things you can give others,” she said. “You can learn to do the very thing you didn’t think that you could do. And we will celebrate every progress you make.”

Newman opened Parkside as a new school in 2015. She was recently named the Northeast Learning Community Principal of the Year.

“Dianna is a consummate professional educator and principal who goes above and beyond the call of duty for her students, parents and staff,” said Northeast Learning Community Superintendent John Wall. “She is always focused on their needs and she leads with compassion and love. I am amazed at the understanding she has of her school and the instructional challenges she faces daily. She faces these challenges with a smile on her face and the commitment to find positive solutions for students.”

Newman was shocked to receive the recognition. “I still can’t believe my colleagues think of me this way,” she said. “I share this award with my staff. I have an amazing assistant principal and supporting staff. Our goal is to create a place that feels like love when you walk into the building. We want our kids to walk into the building and everyone, from the front office to their teacher, is happy to see them.” 

Newman graduated from Winthrop University and was recruited by CMS. She became a National Board Certified teacher. “That was one of the best professional development opportunities I’ve ever had,” she said. “You learn about the why behind decisions you are making and focus on the craft.”

Newman also earned her master’s degree from Gardner-Webb University. Last year, she was accepted into the Relay Graduate School of Education National Principal Academy Fellowship. It was a year-long program that was offered through Success by Design.

Newman started her education career teaching first grade at Devonshire Elementary and also taught at Dilworth Elementary, then became an academic facilitator and then an assistant principal at Mallard Creek Elementary. She was principal at Barnette Elementary until she opened Parkside.

“Part of the challenge of owning a new school is that everyone is coming from a different place,” said Newman. “So we established the Parkside Way and we invited the community to get involved and feel like this is their school. If it takes a village to raise a child, you have to invite the village.”

Newman and her staff have student update meetings, not only with parents but with extended family as well. “We are strengthening the child by strengthening the entire family,” she said. “They can all invest in their students’ success.”

Newman works closely with parents to make sure they have access to the resources they need, just not for their students but for themselves as well. “My dad liked to work on cars in his spare time and he taught me sometimes a hammer isn’t going to do it,” she said. “Sometimes you need a screwdriver and a wrench. We don’t want our parents to feel like there is a deficit or that they aren’t valued. We can help them get the tools they need. We want to empower them to help themselves. It takes time and commitment to families, careful planning and follow through to create new habits and new beginnings.”

Newman’s own family has become a part of her CMS experience as well. “I have an amazing husband that I met when we were 16 years old,” she said. “We have four beautiful children that span from ages 5-22.”

Her oldest son graduated from Hough High. Her 11-year-old attended Barnette and Parkside and is now at Piedmont IB Middle. Her two youngest children are current Parkside students. “That certainly adds another layer of pressure,” said Newman. “I want my kids to have access to the best education possible and they can find that here at Parkside.”