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'This is my home'

To get their students pumped for the start of the school year, Paw Creek Elementary Principal Danielle Belton said her admin team pitched a beginning-of-the-year pep rally.

As she prepared to head down to join her students and staff, her financial secretary stopped her to talk about finances - which wasn’t out of the ordinary.

“So I go down there and all of a sudden they go ‘Belton, Belton’,” said Belton. “I just thought the kids saw me coming.”

What she wasn’t expecting that morning was her family, a bouquet of flowers and her Learning Community there to surprise her with the announcement that she was the Northwest Learning Community Principal of the Year. 

It’s an honor that she credits to her school.

“This school is an amazing place full of people dedicated to kids, and I share this recognition with them and all principals,” she said. “We have been pushed to our limits in so many ways. We’ve been resilient and we put kids first. It was such an exciting moment.

“It was so amazing - the signs, the love, the ‘Team Belton’ shirts,” she recalled. “I was on such a high from the day, I didn’t go to bed until 1 a.m.!”

Belton is in her ninth year as a principal at Paw Creek. She began her educational career at Garinger High as an English teacher in 2004. As a student who also attended a Title I high school, Belton knew those were the schools she wanted to work in and tap into their “untapped talent.”

“Our Title I status doesn’t define us,” she said. “Our kids will achieve just as much as anyone else. We have high expectations for all students, regardless. We build that foundation - you are smart, you are talented, you are brilliant - everywhere. They will have roadblocks, but I want them to be confident people and learners.”

Belton enjoys seeing the success of her students and teachers. Due to her longevity at Paw Creek Elementary, she’s been able to see a novice teacher turn into a mentor and Pre-K students turn into fifth grade leaders. 

And the relationships don’t stop once students leave. Even in middle school, Belton said students will come back and share their successes. 

“My goal is when I send students from elementary to middle school, they have a strong love of learning that will never diminish,” she said.

Northwest Learning Community Superintendent Raymond Barnes said Belton is a “highly effective principal who leads with head and heart.” 

“She has created systems and processes to support students academically and socially,” he said. “Principal Belton values teachers and the expertise that each of them brings to the classroom daily.”

Belton jokes how she constantly tells others how much she loves her job, but it’s truly how she feels. She loves her students and the little moments she shares with them in their classrooms.

“This is my home,” she said. “I think I’ve said 20 times (last week, before the announcement) I love my job. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”