Meet Dawn Snowdon, Pequenakonck Elementary School's new assistant principal

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Dawn Snowdon is the new assistant principal at Pequenakonck Elementary School in North Salem. (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)

Last week, Dawn Snowdon began turning right out of her driveway in the mornings, instead of left. It was a simple but significant change. No longer was Snowdon a 5th grade teacher in the Wappingers Central School District. The Poughquag resident, mom and career educator had transitioned into a new role: as the new assistant principal at Pequenakonck Elementary School in North Salem.

“As long as I get that turn right each morning, I’m good!” she said with a laugh from her new office at PQ. Snowdon was wearing the countenance of someone eager to dive into a new job, excited about a fresh start, and armed with confidence gained through nearly two decades of classroom experience.

Photo by Benjamin Allen, HudValley Photo

“I was looking specifically for an elementary assistant principal role,” Snowdon said of how she came to be at PQ. “I knew that that’s exactly what I was designed to do and truly what I felt I was best suited for. In my transition to administration, I wanted to be an experienced educator - to understand the classroom and the curriculum, as well as the teacher and parent points of view.”

Snowdon and her husband, a Dutchess County police officer, are parents to two girls, ages 12 and 9. They’re ‘in it’ in the way that many North Salem families are - managing the priorities and schedules of two working parents and two kids who are busy with school and extracurricular activities.

“As a mom I can see both sides of the picture,” Snowdon said. “I think it’s really important to not only see a teacher’s perspective but also see a parent’s perspective. At this point in my career, I feel like I have a really good balance of both.”

Snowdon learned of the opening at PQ after hearing through the local education grapevine that Dr. Roy Martin had been promoted to PQ Principal earlier this summer. Martin, who joined PQ at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year as assistant principal, replaced Mary Johnson, who retired in August after nearly 40 years in public education.

[Pequenakonck Elementary School principal Mary Johnson announces retirement, reflects on four decades in education]

North Salem felt like a perfect fit for Snowdon, who grew up in nearby Pawling, a Putnam County community whose school district graduates similar-sized classes. Snowdon’s graduating class had just 56 students. Everybody knew everybody (though Snowdon didn’t previously know Martin, who also hails from Pawling but is younger by several years).

North Salem’s small size may help to accelerate Snowdon’s biggest goal for her first year: building relationships. “Getting to know people–the staff, the children and the parents– I think that’s the most important piece,” Snowdon said. “Coming out of COVID, I think it’s really important that we make school enjoyable and welcoming and a place where kids want to be.”

Photo by Benjamin Allen, HudValley Photo

On Thursday, PQ held its Open House, an annual tradition that invites families back to school before its official opening to meet their children’s teachers and see their classrooms. The tradition was canceled the past two years due to the pandemic.

“It struck me that for some of these kids (and their parents), it was the first time they’d ever done it,” Snowdon said. “That’s not how education is designed to be. It’s a three-pillar stool; parents, teachers and students need to be connected to make the best educational experience.”

Snowdon said she intends to focus the majority of her time on bringing back open communication among those three groups. “It’s super important that we’re on the same page of wanting the best for children,” she said, adding, “when you are open with children and open with parents, and everyone is on the same page, it really does open this opportunity for a child to thrive.”

Photo by Benjamin Allen, HudValley Photo

To that end, Snowdon intends to make sure that parents understand that they are invited and encouraged to be active participants in their child’s educational experience. “I feel like we have to be like, ‘it’s okay again. It’s okay to talk to your child’s teacher, to your child, about school.’ We need to remember what that felt like.”

At PQ this year, Snowdon expects a greater focus on academics, as COVID-related policies and procedures are expected to play a much smaller role in day-to-day school life. And while a recent national test showed that America’s 9-year-olds showed significant declines in math and reading due to the pandemic, Snowdon stressed that she is not focused on simply ‘catching up.’

“Our goal as educators is to meet children where they are and build from there. It’s not about ‘they’re in 4th grade, this is where they should be,’” she said. “An elementary education should make a child love school and love learning."

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