Sue Danielson Serves With a Smile
Virginia principal connects with students to get them excited about coming to school.
An instructional leader with more than 40 years of classroom, counseling, and administrative experience, Susan K. “Sue” Danielson helped establish Prince William County’s Rosa Parks Elementary School in Woodbridge, Virginia, as assistant principal and principal, and she pushed to make it the district’s first International Baccalaureate–Primary Years Programme school.
Danielson considers the relationships she has built with students and parents one of her greatest achievements. She connects with students throughout the day, occasionally dressed in a wacky costume. Danielson participated in a Lifetouch Memory Mission to the Dominican Republic in 2014 and uses the experience to teach students back home about the importance of giving back.
Being named an NAESP National Distinguished Principal in 2020 was a “humbling experience,” she says. “It’s really about my staff and my kids. I have the best job in the world. I want our kids to run into school—not out. I love making our kids’ faces light up, and they really love being here.”
What does being in the International Baccalaureate–Primary Years Programme entail?
Danielson: We take our learning and organize it around six transdisciplinary themes. Then, we take our state standards and integrate them across content areas. We’re trying to develop a way for kids to learn through inquiry by being open-minded, taking risks, reflecting on their learning, and being able to show us their learning.
We heard you recently lost quite a bit of weight. How did you do it?
Danielson: I wasn’t doing a good job taking care of myself so I could take care of my students, staff, and community. I knew my cholesterol was high, and if I could get that under control, I might not need medication. One of my teachers told me about a program called Optavia, and I was able to lose 30 pounds. I am very in-tune to the foods I put into my body—calorie-controlled fueling and a lean-and-green meal once a day. I religiously drink more than 64 ounces of water per day.
Any advice for administrators juggling remote, hybrid, and in-person classes this fall?
Danielson: Be positive about going into the new year. You need to be flexible—you need to have a plan, but know that the plan can change. You can’t stress yourself out by thinking that there’s no other way to do [something]; there’s always another way.
How did your counseling experience inform your approach to reentry post-COVID?
Danielson: We really had to be a beacon of hope during COVID. I helped people learn to collaborate better and reflect on how we need one another. We were a caring and compassionate school before, but we have grown closer this year.
What do you like to do in the off hours?
Danielson: I like to hike the Blue Ridge Mountains. I like to do a little golfing. I like to read, though I don’t have as much time to do that as I’d like. I like to travel and go on cruises—I’d like to go to Belize, and I did a little inland cruising in Alaska many years ago and would like to do that again. I like to get in my car and drive, too!
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