DANVILLE – The morning after being named the new principal of Danville High School, Tracy Cherry was at the school, talking to construction workers, assessing the lawn that needed to be trimmed and organizing her office.
A couple hours later, she had plans to meet with some of the high school staff.
A few steps away from her office, Cherry stopped at the place in the main hallway of the school where she recalled having a conversation with retired Superintendent Mark Denman.
“We stood right here, and Mr. Denman said, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if you were the first black principal?’” she said.
Although that comment was made many years ago, it has stuck with Cherry.
“That just resonated with me that day,” she said. “It was something I aspired to.”
Cherry admitted she expected to retire before being able to fulfill her dream job at DHS, never thinking that former principal Kimberly Norton would leave last month to take a curriculum position at the Urbana School District.
Now that she is at the helm of the high school, Cherry has hit the ground running and is overflowing with ideas about how she plans to support students and her staff and instill a sense of pride once again at the high school.
“In order to effect change, I have to have community support and parent support,” she said, adding that she was successful in doing that while she was principal at Kenneth D. Bailey Academy.
“We need to bring Danville High School to the forefront of education and bring success to our students,” she said.
Having grown up with four brothers, Cherry said she was always being challenged by them, but in the end, “I’m the one in the family who got things done.”
One of her first orders of business at DHS is working on the culture inside the school and forming relationships to support staff and students.
“We need to work more on relationships by building kids up and building staff up,” she said. “That’s my strong suit.”
Creating a sense of pride at the high school also is important to Cherry.
“I’ve been a part of the Danville High School for a long time,” she said. “I always felt a certain sense of pride and respect and love for the building and the kids in it, but I haven’t felt that for a while.
“When the position became open, I knew I had to bring that back,” she said.
Cherry also wants her staff to know that she supports them.
“It doesn’t matter what job you’re in or for how long, sometimes you hit a low point,” she said. “I’ve had that happen to me, but I still love my job and no day is ever the same.
“I want the teachers to have the same feeling about loving their job and the same love for Danville High School,” she said.
Cherry said she is a “big proponent” of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and is prepared to support and improve teacher and student understanding of the program that teaches skills to prepare students for college and careers.
“The students learn the ‘why’ they’re learning something and the relevance of it,” she said of AVID.
She also will be working with North Ridge Middle School Principal Eliza Brooks to pilot a Pre-AP program this fall. The program will increase the number of subjects in which eighth-grade students can earn high school credit. North Ridge students can take algebra in eighth grade, but the program now will allow eighth-graders who excel in science to enroll in a high school biology course taught by a certified high school teacher. Students that take biology in eighth grade would complete the required science course sequence a year early, affording them the opportunity to take more Advanced Placement (AP) science courses prior to high school graduation.
“Ninth grade is almost too late,” Cherry said of exposing students to more rigorous coursework. “We need to give them the academic challenge to do the harder work before they come to Danville High School.”
Cherry, who was elected in April to a six-year term on the Danville Area Community College Board of Trustees, said she hopes to cultivate more career and technical education (CTE) opportunities for DHS students.
She said every seat reserved for DHS students in the College Express vocational program at DACC is full, so she would like to collaborate with DACC to offer more CTE opportunities. She said she has had conversations with DACC President Stephen Nacco about possibly starting a dental hygienist program and a barber school at the college.
“I want to provide student with those experiences, and it also feeds them into the community college system,” she said.
As she prepared for her meeting with staff, Cherry seemed almost in disbelief that her dream of being DHS principal had finally come true.
“I’m overwhelmed and excited,” she said. “I’ve been hoping to come back to Danville High School for a long time, and I’m real excited about being a part of it.”