Although still referred to as “Coach,” Derrick Dace officially has a new title–Principal. During his sixteen-year career in the field of education (nine of which were spent in Tunica County), he has coached girls’ basketball, varsity football and taught high school math. Dace believes his previous positions have given him experience in team building and leadership that will serve him well in his role as principal.
Dace’s educational philosophy centers on the idea that all children are capable of learning, and that it is the duty of teachers and administrators to see that each individual succeeds. He also acknowledges that it is the responsibility of the school to equip students with the skills necessary to become viable prospects in today’s job market.
There are, admittedly, challenges to fulfilling his vision of how this philosophy is implemented. The biggest obstacle he would like to address during his tenure is the issue of trust between the school and the community.
“We need to build more trust with the community because we need the help of the community,” he said.
One small step towards bolstering community/school relations is to rethink the way in which parents are invited to view the school.
In the past, open house was held exclusively in the gym. This year will be more interactive. The entire campus will be open for parents to see, and student ROTC members will lead guests around to classrooms. Teachers will be available for conferences and student work will be displayed.
And open house isn’t the only thing being done differently at Rosa Fort.
“We can’t go with the status quo because we’re not getting the job done. Some changes have to be made.”
Dace believes a more rigorous curriculum must be put in place and a wider variety of courses offered. Teachers will be asked to change the way they draft their lesson plans by putting more emphasis on the type of assessments they use to gauge student progress.
Also new this year is the “Ninth Grade Academy.” This is a program that allows entering freshman a year to adjust to their new surroundings before being fully integrated with the rest of the student body. This concentrates all ninth grade classes into two buildings not used by upperclassmen.
The ninth grade courses are what Dace refers to as “feeder courses.” The feeder courses should prepare freshman for the challenging studies they have ahead of them, as well as hone their skills for the MCT. Hopefully, this change will allow younger students to concentrate more on academics and less on the social whirlwind that is high school.
Dace hopes these changes, along with others, will be the first steps to restoring a battered morale among students.
“Bring back the Lions’ pride” is his motto for the school year. He believes that the key to unlocking student potential all boils down to expectations.
“When you expect more, they (students) will give you more. They won’t settle for ‘minimal,’” Dace said.