While the class of 2018 is the last to recall his friendly greetings in the atrium and the sweat towel he sported at every assembly, former principal Pete Cahall’s legacy remains rooted in daily life at Wilson.
When Cahall first came to Wilson in 2008, the school was widely self-segregated, and rules were inconsistently enforced. “I remember during class time there would be 200 kids in the hallway,” he said. “At lunch all the kids of color were in the bottom level, in the “armory”, as they called it. All the white kids were on the upper level in the hallways.”
Cahall oversaw the transformation of Wilson’s building with the renovation completed in October of 2011. With it, he says, came a change in school culture. “The number of kids on Honor Roll increased from the time I started to the time I ended,” he said. “Suspensions decreased, attendance went up, SATs [increased], scholarship money [increased].”
One of his most memorable experiences was when Wilson students and community members gathered for a counter protest against the Westboro Baptist Church in support of the LGBQT+ community. This took place days after Cahall came out as gay during Wilson’s annual LGBQT+ pride day.
Nearly a semester into his seventh year at Wilson, Cahall was told his contract would not be renewed following an incident during homecoming week. “I had just come out the June before, and a male student ran for homecoming queen, and he won,” Cahall recalled. “He said he did it as a joke, and I didn’t think it was quite funny to be honest with you. I probably said some things I shouldn’t have said to him.”
In response, Cahall decided to cancel homecoming court. “I was dealing with things like a girl’s mother was upset because someone was tearing down her signs, and that’s not why I became principal,” he said. Shortly after, he received a call from Central Office condemning his reaction to the incident, and informing him that his contract at Wilson would not be renewed for the following school year.
While DCPS cited Wilson’s poor test scores and a racial achievement gap as reasoning for the contract discontinuation, Cahall and others closely associated to the school discredited this explanation.
Although his contract permitted him to finish out the school year, he officially resigned on December 23, ten days after the announcement of DCPS’s decision. “I regret the terms that I left on,” Cahall said. “I wish I would have finished out the year, I wish I would have finished out in a celebratory way. But I was angry, and I was upset.”
Cahall has kept in touch with former students through Facebook and email, including several members of “Cahall’s Kidz,” a mentoring program he started in 2013 to help at-risk students who were falling behind in school.
After stepping down, Cahall worked in Prince George’s County as an education consultant for the remainder of the school year. He then became principal of Thomas Edison High School of Technology in Montgomery County, a half-day school that offers career and technological training to students enrolled in Montgomery County public high schools (MCPS).
Because it is not a full-day school, Edison lacked many of the attributes Cahall enjoyed about Wilson. “There were no athletic teams, there was no homecoming,” Cahall said about Edison. “It’s not like you had school pride in Edison; you had school pride in Sherwood [High School] or [Montgomery] Blair [High School]. Edison was just a place you came to get part of your education.”
Due to health issues, Cahall stepped down from his position last June. After a seven month break from working, Cahall began his current job on February 5 as a Hearing and Appeals Officer in MCPS’s central office.
Cahall plans to hold this job until May 1, and then retire from education. Though his plans for retirement are not set in stone, Cahall says he will likely move back to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he started out his career in education as a teacher, coach, and athletic director. An active member in his church, he is also considering becoming a youth pastor.
Cahall loved attending Wilson theater productions and sporting events. He also looked forward to homecoming spirit week, and to speaking with Wilson alumni when they came back to visit. “I miss everything. I miss graduation. I miss experiencing kids being successful, whether it’s in the athletic field, the classroom or the stage,” he said. “It really tore my heart out having to leave Wilson…Wilson was my life for six and a half years, and when I had to leave, it was very traumatic for me.”
“When I say I’m gonna retire, I’m going to do something different… Going back to [teaching] high school, I just think it’s going to be second best to Wilson,” Cahall said. “I think I hold [Wilson] closer to my heart than anything I’ve done in my 32 years of education. I just miss it, I still do.” •