‘She Has Created a Community’

Thomas Jefferson Principal Sandi Massey is our Preston Hollow Person of the Year 

It hasn’t been the easiest year-and-a-half for Thomas Jefferson High School principal Sandi Massey, but many insist she’s the gold standard when it comes to leadership through a crisis. 

“She is a thoughtful, caring leader who has, time and time again, risen to every challenge before her,” Dallas ISD school board trustee Edwin Flores said. 

First, a tornado hit her campus in October 2019, forcing a move to the much further away Thomas Edison Middle School. Then, just as everyone was getting their bearings, the pandemic struck. For the way Massey has led in those situations and more, Preston Hollow People selected her as our 2020 Person of the Year. 

“She took over a TJ on the upswing and has accelerated that momentum,” Flores said. “She helped open the best collegiate academy in the district, was a thought leader on the creation of career institutes, and is now a crisis leader who successfully and seamlessly transitioned a high school devastated by a tornado into a welcoming environment during their stay on the Edison campus.” 

Dallas Education Foundation executive director Mita Havlick was also effusive. 

“Not only has Sandi created a school at Edison for her Thomas Jefferson family, she has created a community,” she said. “Sandi has that not-always found quality of having an incredible amount of empathy while still having the strength leadership requires.” 

Her boss – Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa – calls her a “rock star.” 

“Sandi did a phenomenal job trying to keep everything together,” he recalled. “It was surreal for someone like Sandi. She’s our longest-serving high school principal – and I think she’s like 13 years old.” 

That rock star status was seconded by Thomas Jefferson Alumni Association president Missy Huber, who said she believed that “no other principal could handle” everything Massey faced. 

“TJ had been one of lowest ranking DISD high schools, and with strong leadership and hard work had just been ranked the Number 2 comprehensive high school in Dallas ISD,” Huber said, adding that when the tornado struck, the leadership qualities Massey had already demonstrated “went into overdrive.” 

“She contacted her staff and faculty asking each to wear their blue shirts and all sit together – unified,” Huber said. “Her energy and leadership skills were in high gear, and she knew they had to move forward fast and together. Working hand and hand with her staff and teachers, there was not time to reflect on their loss, only get the temporary facility opened by Wednesday for the students.” 

Huber said Massey was there to meet every bus that morning, greeting every student with a high-five and a smile. 

“She is contagious with her passion for TJ,” Huber said. 

Massey talked about having high expectations. 

“The thing about that is just trying not to make excuses,” the principal explained. “We do know that the tornado and COVID impacted us, but, you know, we have a lot of pride, and we want to do well, regardless of our circumstances.” 

More on Massey:

Missy Huber, Thomas Jefferson Alumni Association president: “As the 2019/20 school year began, Principal Sandi Massey along with her amazing teaching staff were marveling in their accomplishments with the TJ students. TJ had been one of lowest ranking DISD high schools, and with strong leadership and hard work had just been ranked the #2 comprehensive high school in DISD.

Then on Sunday, October 21,the unthinkable happened, TJ was destroyed by an EF-3 tornado. That Monday morning when the district called a meeting, Principal Massey’s unwavering unity, team spirit and leadership did not stop for a minute but went into overdrive. She contacted her staff and faculty asking each to wear their blue shirts and all sit together…unified!!

Her energy and leadership skills were in high gear and she knew they had to move forward fast and together. Working hand and hand with her staff and teachers, there was not time to reflect on their loss only get the temporary facility opened by Wednesday for the students. Wednesday morning, Principal Massey greeted every bus and a Principal Massey high five and smile met each student!

Everyone was focused on the students but Principal Massey was deeply concerned for her teachers. We visited with tears, and knew the teachers needed a morale boast. Principal Massey asked if the Alumni Association could provide each teacher a $300 gift certificate to help replace supplies each teacher lost due to the tornado. Sandi has an incredible alumni following and the Alumni Association raised the funds. Her spirit and leadership continues to be at the front to navigate TJ through this unprecedented turn of events, the tornado and now COVID.

She leads with true conviction of love and compassion for her students, teachers and staff, which keeps the school going and only wanting the best. I joined the alumni board eight years ago at the same time Principal Massey came to TJ. She is contagious with her passion for TJ, which makes the Alumni Association believe in her dreams for the school, which we call Principal Massey’s initiatives. I firmly believe no other principal could handle the position Sandi is doing keeping the TJ spirit alive!”

Mita Havlick, Dallas Education Foundation Executive Director: “Throughout 2020, the Dallas Education Foundation has strived to support Principal Massey as she navigated and led her students and staff through the tornado disaster of 2019. It has been a privilege and a humbling experience to witness all she has done. Not only has Sandi created a school at Edison for her Thomas Jefferson family, she has created a community. And, this has been critical because of the double-whammy with the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sandi has that not-always found quality of having incredible amount of empathy while still having the strength leadership requires.

Dallas ISD and Thomas Jefferson is fortunate to have Sandi as their principal.”

Edwin Flores, Dallas ISD School Board trustee: ” I can’t say enough good things about Sandi.  She is a thoughtful, caring leader who has, time and time again, risen to every challenge before her.  She took over a TJ on the upswing and has accelerated that momentum.  She helped open the best collegiate academy in the district, was a thought leader on the creation of career institutes, and is now a crisis leader who successfully and seamlessly transitioned a high school devastated by a tornado into a welcoming environment during their stay on the Edison campus.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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