Dr. Donna C. Peters

Donna C. Peters, Ph.D. received the Patrick Daly Memorial Award for Excellence in Educational Leadership in 1998 for her outstanding leadership of McLeansville Middle School in Guilford County, North Carolina. Donna also served as the principal of Guilford Middle School in Greensboro.

Donna is currently the superintendent of the Montgomery Public Schoolsin North Carolina. Donna C. Peters, superintendent of Montgomery County Schools. Prior to that, she served as superintendent of Rutherford County Schools in Forest City.

She was named the 2010 A. Craig Phillips North Carolina Superintendent of the Year, given jointly by the North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA) and the North Carolina School Boards Association. Peters has been superintendent of Montgomery County Schools since 2006. The judges said Donna's work has greatly affected student achievement. The school district is recognized at the state level for participation as a pilot for the North Carolina Virtual Public High School.

Reflections on the Comer Process

Dr. Comer's ideas have had a tremendous influence on me as a leader. Fortunately, I was introduced to the School Development Program very early in my first principalship. The philosophy and processes fit me like a glove from the beginning. Having had some site-based management training, I knew that I wanted to lead differently from those using the more predominant leadership models of the time. However, it was not clear to me exactly what a preferred model would look like until I was introduced to the Comer Process. It immediately became the governance model I would use through two principalships and the foundation for how I have led as an assistant superintendent and superintendent.

As a result of my Comer training, the child-centered approach and emphasis on relationships have been central to my leadership practice. Making all decisions in the best interest of children and keeping children at the center when making decisions are ideals from the Comer Process that are a part of who I am as a leader now. In addition, the three guiding principles of collaboration, no-fault, and consensus are the way I do business. If it were not for Dr. Comer and the School Development model, I hope I would been about the right things. However, I am sure I would have lacked the clarity needed to confidently lead this way. Although a lot of the leadership literature now speaks to these principles in one way or another, Dr. Comer's work provided the model and roadmap for how to make it all work in a school. As a new principal, I cannot tell you how much that helped me to lead effectively.

The three guiding principles--collaboration, no fault, and consensus--have been the most useful. From then until now, I have never called for a vote with any group or team with whom I have worked. We always use consensus to make decisions, thus no real winners or losers. In addition, I strongly believe in working in teams and sharing decision making. Lastly, I try real hard to not blame and discourage challenges but to put problems on the table and approach them in a way that we seek and find solutions in the best interest of students.

Honestly, McLeansville Middle School was transformed through the Comer Process, and I believe strongly that if you asked our faculty members the same question you would receive a similar answer from them, even after all these years. The faculty actually resisted adopting the model initially, and I would only sign on with consensus from the faculty. Finally, after a 1 1/2 hour meeting, they agreed to adopt the model. Their concern was the time involved in becoming a part of decision making. Some fear of shared responsibility may have been involved as well. After all, it had been quite a long time of blaming the leader for problems in the school.

What happened in the end is McLeansville Middle School implemented the model quite well, and the school progressed in ways that surprised many. The school had been one where achievement was low, teachers and staff seemed more at the center than the students, and apathy was high. Through the Comer Process, including strong teams working hard and communicating well in the best interest of children, teachers becoming more student-centered and developing lesson plans around the six Developmental Pathways, and guiding principles being alluded to constantly and followed consistently, we became a very different school. Teachers were trying to get transfers to our school, which had never happened before. Achievement increased significantly, surpassing expectations of many in the school system. The culture of the school was positive, child-centered, and productive. The Comer Process made it all happen.

As a building leader the Comer Process grounded and focused me in a process that led to significant school improvement. Without the model, this new principal would not have had a clue where to start in the school improvement process. For providing me with that process and for all Dr. Comer has contributed and done for so many years on behalf of children and educators, I am most grateful.