Pine Belt native leads Petal into new school year

PETAL, MS (WDAM) - Dr. Matthew Dillon is no stranger to the Pine Belt and neither is his family.

"Being right here at Petal means being at home for me," said Dillon, who began as Petal's superintendent this summer after the retirement of Dr. John Buchanan.

"A few years back when we started having children and wanted to settle down somewhere for an extended period of time, my wife and I sat down and talked about this being the place we want to be," Dillon said of the ease of choosing Petal.

When asked about his reason for wanting to move into the Petal School District, Dillon did not hesitate with his response.

"Great schools, great community, great quality of life, and we want to be a large part of that moving forward."

Dillon said that this will be a pivotal year for the Petal schools, as well as schools across the state, with the full implementation of Common Core State Standards. However, he is confident that the implementation of these standards, which have been in the Petal schools since 2010, will not change the foundation of education.

"One thing that doesn't change is the relationship piece," he said. "You're still in control of what materials are put in front of students. Teachers are still in control of the classroom. Administration is still in control of the building. We're going to continue to work with our parents and do the things that have made Petal successful in the past."

Dillon said the measure of student performance will be more difficult to measure this year, seeing as the new assessment will be put in place; however, he said his main goal for his first year in the school district will be to continue Petal's tradition of excellence and building relationships.

"Coming in to a place that is very successful and where the culture has been set and the tradition is here, I think it's wise not to make wholesale changes," he said. "But on the flip side, we are in the midst of change. We have new standards, we have new accountability systems, we have new evaluation systems for teachers and administrators, so we do have to change and we do have to look at things in a different way."

Dillon is a product of the public schools. He was raised in Columbia and graduated from the Columbia School District. He didn't go far from home to complete his undergraduate degree. Dillon started out at Jones County Junior College then completed his bachelor's degree in elementary education at the University of Southern Mississippi.

He has served as an educator since that time, beginning his career on the Coast in the Harrison County School District where he served as a teacher and baseball coach. From there, he moved to north Mississippi, where he had multiple roles over nine years: teacher, assistant principal, administrative intern, interim principal, high school principal and junior high principal.

During that time, Dillon received a master's and doctorate degree from the University of Mississippi.

He then moved to the central part of the state to serve as high school principal for the Pearl School District for two years before moving into the assistant superintendent position for Tupelo Public Schools.

Dillon brings with him his wife, who is a graduate of Petal, and their three young children, two of whom are school-aged and enrolled in the Petal schools.

"Professionally, it doesn't get any better than Petal," he said. "The Petal School District is where you want to be across the state of Mississippi and even beyond that. We want to continue that tradition moving forward."

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