Danyelle Wright Is the New Principal at Cottage Grove School
Academic Leadership in the ‘Burbs
|While continuing to work on her doctorate in educational
leadership at UW-Madison, Danyelle Wright will be the
planning principal at Cottage Grove School in the 2020-2021
multiple sports. I played soccer at La Follette. I joined the swim team even though I hadn’t swum a day in my life. That was really comical to see me in the water. I
wanted to do something different. And I played basketball. It was those individuals who had the deepest impact on my learning, which guided me into education.”
Wright went to Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois on a soccer scholarship before transferring to Rockford College — now Rockford University —
where she majored in physical education.
After a couple of years, Wright enrolled at Edgewood College to earn a master’s degree in special education and categorical special ed with an emphasis in EBD,
which is emotional behavior disability.
“That experience helped me work on my pedagogy as my ability to use the tools that I learned in that specific program and working with those students who have
specific types of needs,” Wright said. “It has really grounded my ability to work with multiple populations of kids. That was a really impactful program. I learned a lot
While being an assistant principal at Toki Middle School, Wright also pursued a doctorate in education leadership from UW-Madison. Now that she is working on her
dissertation, Wright is on the verge of becoming the principal at Cottage Grove School in the Monona Grove School District.
For the past seven years when she became an assistant principal, Wright has viewed herself as a change agent prepared to eliminate systemic racism and other
barriers that prevent students from achieving their fullest.
“This is something that isn’t new to the Madison school district or even Dane County at large,” Wright said. “We see the patterns of trauma and the pattern of
students experiencing stress and systemic racism throughout Dane County and Wisconsin. That is something that needs to be addressed in our educational system.
It is disheartening to see. But at the same time, I’m confident to say that I think the educators that we have currently in our systems are actively working on
combatting those things. It’s encouraging to hear that everyone is acknowledging institutional and systemic racism from the curriculum to our systems. I know a lot
of educators are working hard on dismantling those things.”
While one may assume that most of the students come from Monona within the school system, about 70 percent come from Cottage Grove. The Village of Cottage
Grove has been experiencing tremendous growth and so the current elementary school is preparing to split into two as a new elementary school is built. Currently
Cottage Grove School has 2-4th grades, but next year, it will have 1-2nd grades with 3-5th grade in the new school. And Cottage Grove School will have 1-2nd
grades and Wright will be a planning teacher for the school.
“For the next year, I will plan with the district as far as school is for the following year, the 2020-2021 school year and the next year it will be me administering at full
capacity,” Wright said. “My first 30-90 days will be getting acclimated to the building, the culture and the community. But I will also hold listening sessions as well
so that families can come and meet me either virtually or in person. We’re still working the details out. I truly want to make a connection and get to know the families
I am serving before I hit the ground and start running the building. I am really excited about this time to slow down and get immersed in the culture.”
Wright had never seen this arrangement before.
“It’s exciting that the district is taking the steps necessary to ensure that when they have a transition that it is done well,” Wright said. “It will be a very smooth
transition. Families will be prepared. Teachers will be prepared. Students will be prepared. This shows their vision for equity. They are very considerate of making
sure that the stakeholders have time through the transition instead of just doing something. That can have detrimental outcomes if you imagine.”
Wright views herself as a servant leader, one who is there to make sure that the needs of the students and the teachers are being met. And she believes in leading
“What I have intentionally done has been leading physically and sharing myself,” Wright said. “Some things we did this year was share our stories at the beginning
of the year and throughout the year where the administration can go in front of everyone and share their truth, share their journey so that we bring the humanity back
into our work. That is something that is very problematic though, the political response to do rather than leading through humanity and acknowledging this is
something that unfortunately has been going on for some time. How can we resolve it in a manner to uplift the community and the people who are directly involved.
At the same time, we need to be authentic. I’m really excited because I think that Monona Grove has the clear vision of what they are leading with. Their equity is
clearly seen throughout their framework. That is something that I personally value and shows the community that they are leading authentically.”
Wright feels that she has a lot to learn and is looking forward to a long tenure at Cottage Grove School. But nonetheless, due to her passion for equity and the
journey that she is on, there will come a time when she longs to impact an even greater number of students.
“My husband and I joke around about me becoming a school superintendent someday,” Wright said with a laugh. “I never envisioned myself becoming a co-leader. I
was perfectly okay being a teacher. That was a sphere of influence. That is what I could control. And the more I was in the system, I saw holes and gaps in the
system. That is what drove my inquiry and I was like, ‘You know what? We have to change how we are doing schools. How can I change that?’ And so I became a
teacher leader. And I was like, ‘Nope, there are still some things on the policy side that I have no control over. And so it just continued to grow. And eventually, I
was like, ‘I am ready for leadership. I want to be a principal.’ Then I became a dean and then I became an assistant principal for two years. And so I’m trying to say
that I don’t know what my plans are long-term, after 10 years from now. I do know I want to be a head principal for some time. I think this is where God has me and
where I need to be for my strength and influence on what I can have, especially on small children. That’s the foundation. First and second grade, that is the
foundation. Data has shown us that by third grade, if students don’t have X, Y & Z in math and reading, then their trajectory for success for high school or even
college is very low. I really believe that I am supposed to be in this space right now. After 10-15 years, I have no idea. Right now, I am exactly where I need to be.”
For now, Wright is looking forward to working with the school community that she will be responsible for. And she will have a year to listen to staff, parents and
students as she gears up to be the principal at Cottage Grove School for the 2021-2022 school year. With her pleasant personality, broad experience and impeccable
education, Wright is bound to have a positive impact on the Cottage Grove School community and the Monona Grove School District.
By Jonathan Gramling
In several levels, Danyelle Wright, Cottage Grove School’s new planning principal, has come a long
ways in her life. Born in the inner-city of Chicago, Wright’s family moved to the south suburbs of
Chicago when she entered grade school.
“We were the first African American family in our community on our block,” Wright said. “It was like
a culture shock growing up in the inner-city and then moving out to the south suburbs.”
Wright’s family moved again when she was in high school, this time to Madison and Wright ended
up at La Follette High School, a move that directed her to her future career.
“I had the most amazing experience at La Follette,” Wright said. “At that time, my principals were
Mike Meissen and Joe Gothard. And Mickey Smith was my junior principal. And then there was Joe
and Mike. To be honest with you, I definitely gave a lot of praise to Joe and Mike. Both of them
encouraged me and pushed me to more leadership roles. Another person was Jim Pliner who is
principal at Oregon High School and was athletic director at the time. Jim encouraged me to play