Who is Dr. Dana Giles?
She is more than “Dr. G.” as students warmly call her. She is more than the principal in a commencement gown who hands Pebblebrook High School students their diplomas on graduation day. She is more than the school administrator encouraging students to get involved in school activities and connect with their community. She is more than the face and voice of Pebblebrook at community events throughout Cobb County. She is more than the mentor Pebblebrook staff turn to for career guidance and support.
She is a leader with the heart of an educator, and she’s set on changing the narrative for her students, school, and community.
“Since Dr. Giles has been here, I've seen a huge transformation in student behavior, student achievement, and just the overall culture of the school,” said Maj. Wade Johnson, Pebblebrook Senior JROTC instructor.
Students and staff agree that respect has been a driving force behind the positive culture that Dr. Giles is building.
“Respect is definitely a cornerstone of what she's trying to ingrain in [Pebblebrook students],” Maj. Johnson added.
Mutual respect among students—and students and school staff—not only improves the school culture, but it also sets students up for success after graduation, according to Pebblebrook’s Senior JROTC instructor.
That respect starts with the school’s leader, and Dr. Giles is using her position to set the example.
“I think it's important for students to hear the principal's voice, to know that I'm in the building, and to hear the expectations for learning and for behavior from me,” Dr. Giles said.
When Pebblebrook senior Jayda sees her principal in the hallway—which is often because Dr. Giles is frequently out in the halls connecting with students—she knows her principal is available to listen and help.
“She's just always there for you whenever you need her,” Jayda added.
One reason Jayda can so easily connect with her principal is that Dr. Giles is, as Jayda describes, “personable”, “very nice,” and “respectful.”
That is why Jayda was so excited to tell Dr. Giles that she was accepted to her top school after graduation. She looks up to Dr. Giles and knows her principal loves her.
How does she know Dr. Giles loves her? She knows that because Dr. Giles tells Pebblebrook students every day—sometimes more than once—that she loves them.
“Every single day, I say this to the students when they come in and when they leave. ‘If no one else has told you today, never forget Dr. G. loves you,’” Dr. Giles explained.
There are t-shirts and student art emblazoned with the Pebblebrook principal’s trademark reminder. Students walk up to Dr. Giles in the hall and tell her they love her too.
“They love Dr. G. just as much as she loves them,” revealed Pebblebrook teacher Mariko Antonacci.
Pebblebrook teachers, like Ms. Antonacci, will tell you that whether Dr. Giles is out on the football field, standing in the lunchroom, or in the halls, there are always students gathered around the school’s principal.
“She definitely has a lot of direct interaction, but at the same time, you can tell they respect her, which is really, really important. Obviously, as a principal, instead of just being friends, she’s there for business as well,” Ms. Antonacci added.
In addition to respecting their principal and teachers, students are expected to respect each other, which makes for a much more harmonious atmosphere, Pebblebrook teachers say.
“It makes the school day a whole lot easier. There's a lot less commotion going on just because the students know what's expected of them,” noted Pebblebrook teacher Paige Roberts. “The teachers know what's expected of them, and it just flows all together.”
Pebblebrook High School is home to students from over 60 different countries, and Dr. Giles’ expectations revolving around respect are helping students come together under the Falcon crest for the one goal of student success today and long after graduation.
“My goal is for each and every Falcon to realize their dream and for us to make sure that we did everything possible to launch them to success,” Pebblebrook’s principal revealed.
Dr. Giles celebrates the successes of individual students whether they have a full-ride scholarship to Harvard or Yale, are destined to debut on Broadway, or have mastered life skills inside the school’s special needs classrooms.
“What I want is for every student, regardless of who they are, to get the kind and quality of education that prepares them for a better future. Whatever their dream is, whatever their hope is, we celebrate it,” Dr. Giles added.
The Pebblebrook principal aims to help fuel success by empowering students through programs, like her “You Go Girl” conference. The annual event is geared towards the school’s female population and provides an opportunity for them to gain insight, motivation, and support. The platform promotes a positive self-image and motivation for the young ladies at Pebblebrook. In turn, Dr. Giles also launched “The Awakening” to provide motivation and support to Pebblebrook’s male population.
The student-tailored conferences are examples of how Dr. Giles is getting students involved in school-centered activities. She’s a walking commercial for Pebblebrook, promoting the school’s football games, dances, Beta Club, Spanish Club, all the club events, and everything happening on the stage of the Cobb County Center for Excellence in Performing Arts (CCCEPA), which calls Pebblebrook home.
“It goes back to talking about the transformation, as far as, changing the culture of student involvement,” Maj. Johnson noted. “Student involvement and parental involvement are all part of improving student success academically as well as socially. So, she does all of that stuff by getting students involved in their school and in their community.”
One of Dr. Giles’ main strengths, which is visible to most anyone who steps through the school doors, is her ability to build relationships with students, staff, and community members. Ultimately, that leads to community members stepping forward to help students and families succeed.
“This is a community school, and so my goal is to work with businesses, to work with community leaders and members to ensure that their passion and their vision for Pebblebrook High School is realized,” Dr. Giles explained.
She invites members from the community to see what’s happening inside Pebblebrook classrooms, lend their expertise at events like the “You Go Girl” conference, participate in the school’s work-based learning program, purchase tickets to one of CCCEPA’s Broadway shows, and provide resources for students and families in need.
“I want them to remember our amazing athletic programs and all of the things that we are doing in terms of our basketball and our soccer team and our football team who are all right here in Georgia and are growing and thriving,” Dr. Giles added.
When she is out of the school building attending community events, speaking to organizations, and advocating for her students, she wants community members to think of Pebblebrook’s great diversity, growth, and expansion opportunities.
“For me, the future is about unveiling the strength, the resilience, and the beauty of this public high school and for everyone to see that and think of us as a first choice when it comes to quality education, quality students, and a quality community,” Pebblebrook’s principal boasted.
As Dr. Giles focuses on changing the narrative and building relationships with students and community members, Pebblebrook staff are an integral part, and she lets them know it.
“Not only does she care about the health and well-being of her students, she definitely does that for her staff as well,” shared Ms. Mariko. “It's the littlest things, like teacher appreciation or staff lunches and stuff like that. It's really just a bunch of those little things that really do end up making a really big difference in your day coming to work.”
She’s a mentor to school staff, taking time to sit down and not only listen to their career plans but help them determine the steps to get there.
“It's a big deal for a black woman to see another black woman taking charge of this. It's very impactful for me,” added Ms. Roberts, who has mapped out her future career plans with Dr. Giles.
Pebblebrook staff members, like Pebblebrook students, are motivated by Dr. Giles’ leadership.
“One of my definitions I give my cadets is that the definition of leadership is the ability to influence others to accomplish a task by providing a purpose, direction, and motivation, and she embodies all that by bringing those quality leadership attributes. She’s just a great leader that makes things happen,” explained Maj. Johnson.
Further praising her leadership skills, the JROTC instructor said Dr. Giles would have made a fine military officer had she not been drawn to education.
Although Dr. Giles’ family tree is filled with educators, including her aunts and mother, she did not set out to serve as a school principal.
She graduated with a degree in biology and chemistry. Once the education bug bit her, her degrees led her to the classroom where she promoted her passion for science.
That passion has continued with her launch of the STEM academy at Lindley Middle School, where she previously served as principal and creating opportunities for Pebblebrook students to explore science fields through partnerships with major organizations.
“If you look at the research, minority students—black and brown students and female students—are underrepresented in STEAM-related fields. We seek to change that narrative as well,” Dr. Giles continued. “We want them to look at the world with a different lens, and we want them to see themselves in these careers post-high school.”
Beyond growing the programs that she has already established, Dr. Giles is looking forward to seeing the results of all the Ed-SPLOST funded construction projects taking place on campus.
Soon CCCEPA students will have a new theater where they can entertain the Pebblebrook community. From the construction of a new gym and more instructional spaces to remodeling the front of the school, the voter-approved Ed-SPLOST will support the steps Dr. Giles is taking to increase student success.
“I'm driven by a strong resolve and commitment for the future and seeing that I do my part in helping to support and grow the next generation of leaders, the next generation of whoever it is that they decide to come. It fuels me every single day. I love looking in their eyes, hearing their stories, and I love being a part of that change in that transition every year,” Pebblebrook’s principal said.
Every decision she makes, every change she makes, every program she launches, every partnership she establishes are all made with an eye toward graduation day—the reward for all her work.
“The favorite thing that I love to celebrate is commencement. I love that day because those are not just students walking across that stage. Those are stories, and I've been a part of that story.”