Pensacola, Florida
Friday June 23rd 2017


Denny Wilson

Denny Wilson
Principal, Oakcrest Elementary School

As this academic year drew to a close, Escambia County School District Superintendent Malcolm Thomas paid a visit to Oakcrest Elementary School. He told the students he had an announcement to make and, for a brief moment, Principal Denny Wilson got a little nervous.

Wilson half-thought the superintendent was about to announce he was being transferred to another school. Instead, Thomas told the students that Wilson was being named as the districts Principal of the Year.

Its very humbling, Wilson said, redirecting the honor, but to me its a recognition of whats going on at Oakcrest.

Whats going on at Oakcrest can only be described as a dramatic turnaround. Its been a gradual progression since Wilson took the reins a few years ago.

It didnt happen over night, the principal said. Weve made a lot of progress. We went from an F to a B, we went from a low-F to a B.

When Wilson found out he was headed to Oakcrest he was excited. It would be his first gig as principal.

Then reality set in, he recalled his realization that he was headed to the districts only F school at the time.

The first few years were tough. The new principal faced an uphill trek.

That third D, Im not gonna lie, thats when I was like, Mr. Thomas, I dont know what to do, you might need to find somebody else, Wilson said.

But over time, Oakcrest experienced what Wilson describes as a culture change. The principal focused on things like reading instruction, reducing the number of suspensions and increasing the level of parental involvement.

This place is going to become a lighthouse for this community, Wilson remembered thinking.

The principal pointed to the Oakcrest school motto: Every student, every day, whatever it takes. He takes these words seriously, offers it up as the foundation of the schools philosophy and reason behind its success.

Kids all have the same ability, Wilson said. Its not determined by what we grew up thinking, or what neighborhood we grew up in, or how much money we have. Kids all have potential.

Wilson also credits the schools faculty with its success. He describes his teachers as incredibly, incredibly dedicated and almost missionary-like to be here.

Thats exactly the kind of people that Wilson has tried to staff his school with. He wants people that are as excited and passionate as he is about educating children and involving the community. He wants people that want to be there.

Youve got to believe that youre at the right place. If youre not where you feel like youre called to be, I dont know how you can be successful, Wilson said. I see this as my mission field. I feel like teaching is a calling. I feel like being a principal is a calling. Ive felt like for seven years Ive been at the right place at the right time. I wouldnt trade places with anybody right now.