Purple and white jelly beans, purple ties, a kind smile in the hallway, and a focus on “Achieving the Honorable,” while also caring for student’s social and emotional health: the Daniels Doctrine.
Former principal Brent Daniels departed from PHS on Jan. 27, after occupying the position for four years.
“The student body here has such a high intellect and focus on academics, but at the same time is very caring and nurturing,” Daniels said. “They definitely helped to challenge some of my belief systems and at the same time allowed me to grow, so I will definitely miss that.”
Daniels was appointed principal of PHS on July 1, 2013. Prior to his position at PHS, Daniels worked as a teacher at El Cerrito High School, and later as a teacher and the assistant principal at Burlingame High School.
“I was a teacher on special assignment [at Burlingame High School] who looked at school climate and culture,” Daniels said.
Daniels brought this focus on school climate with him to Piedmont, working to implement more programs that prioritized academics, sports and the emotional well-being of students.
“I hope he’s remembered as a principal who always put students first and really did care about the whole student, and never lost that focus,” said former assistant principal Eric Mapes, who has taken Daniels’ place as co-interim principal.
Over the past four years, Daniels said that the school experimented with a multitude of new initiatives and changes, some more successful than others.
“It really was a team effort. Meeting all students’ academic and social needs has always been the mantra I’ve had, but obviously from the list of accomplishments during my tenure, those were all a group effort,” Daniels said.
Some successful initiatives instituted during his tenure include: the testing center, the gender-neutral graduation gowns and a culture of more respect for teacher and student time (morning tutorials, curfew, no homework over break), Daniels said.
“The adoption of the bell schedule is my fondest memory in terms of the program,” Daniels said. “I believe that some of the initiatives are now becoming more a part of the school’s culture.”
Superintendent Randall Booker said that a long-lasting change that Daniels helped to initiate, was a change of culture in Piedmont around studentś social and emotional health.
“All the small changes add up to big changes, and you don’t even know it’s occurring. It’s like that old saying, ‘you know an umpire has done a good job when you don’t remember the umpire,’” Mapes said.
However, not every plan goes perfectly, thus Daniels said there were some programs that failed, or had to be put on pause for various reasons. These include the conflict calendar, open sessions, service learning and Camp Everytown.
Regardless of outcome, a majority of the new initiatives during his tenure were social and emotional health related, and everyone interviewed highlighted Daniels’ focus on the student’s well-being.
“The concept of the social-emotional health of students, he has done so much around that, now recognizing that he didn’t do it all by himself, but he did carry it,” Booker said.
Daniels said that his work with Challenge Success guided him to prioritize the social and emotional aspect of a school community, and he strove to instill that philosophy at PHS.
“As serious as he comes across, I think students get him. I think they get that he cares about their experience at Piedmont High School,” Booker said. “In my experience it’s a lot easier to be the ‘rah rah’ than it is to have that underlying [quiet trust].¨
Similarly, ASB president senior Gracie Petty said that she really appreciated that during her meetings with Daniels, he would not only inquire about business, but also about her personal life.
“I find him to be an extraordinary listener, you just feel the open door policy. He follows up with questions and gets back to you,” parent Melanie Marcus said. “You see things changing.”
Daniels recognized this quality in himself and said that although he has always had a reputation for being thoughtful, his four years at PHS have reinforced in him the importance of listening to all perspectives before making a decision.
“We’re going to have to make decisions where we have imperfect data, but when it comes down to making those decisions, really making a decision that’s going to benefit the most students,” Daniels said. “You’re not going to make everyone happy, but you have to make sure that someone who doesn’t agree with your decision understands why you made that decision.”
Marcus said that his focus on inclusion was evident even to those who did not work closely with him because he always strove to include everyone in the conversation.
Mapes agreed and said that Daniels really taught him how to value the process rather than the end product.
“He taught me, you have got to go slow to go fast,” Mapes said.
Despite his attempt to foster a more inclusive and supportive environment, Daniels said that naturally there were some areas that he felt had been neglected during his four years.
“There are some areas where I feel there are gaps, where I could have done a better job,” Daniels said. “In the future I would encourage really going deeper into building relationships across different groups.”
Daniels also said that he wants the community to continue evaluating and furthering the initiatives that began during his four years at PHS.
“Moving forward, I would encourage really striking that balance between introducing new programs, but also having a focus on how do we ensure that we’re strengthening and building relationships,” Daniels said.
Looking forward, Petty said that she hopes that future administrations will be open to recently instituted ASB programs, such as the therapy dogs.
Similarly, Booker said that he is determined to keep students’ social and emotional health as a central tenant of the school philosophy and is excited for the new ideas and initiatives that the future will bring.
“In this job, I learned that you can’t get stuck in the past, you really have to be present in the moment, and you can’t get too far ahead,” Daniels said. “I wouldn’t change anything because it was such a wonderful experience.”