New principal welcomes the challenge of school leadership

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Ben Dickerson served five years in the U.S. Coast Guard before making a move into education, first as a teacher, then assistant principal, and today, as principal of Edward H. Cary Middle School.

Dickerson is one of dozens of administrators who moved into the top job for the first time at a district school this year. The first-year principal says he’s ready to take on the challenge of improving academic achievement.

It helps that Dickerson is familiar with the terrain of the northwest Dallas community where Cary is located. He’s served there five years as a teacher and assistant principal at a neighborhood charter and as assistant principal at Thomas Jefferson before moving to Cary. He sees the new assignment as a chance to put his knowledge and passion to work on behalf of the area’s students.

“Starting in the classroom was very rewarding, but I wanted to further my impact on this specific community,” he said. “I really saw my ability to do that when I started off as an assistant principal in the charter network. Then I actually decided that I wanted to come to Dallas ISD because I kind of see this as Ground Zero. I felt that if I can affect change here I could have a greater impact.”

As Dickerson sees it, the principal position is akin to a lightning rod in that decisions made at the top often ripple out to every corner of the school, which causes him to think carefully about those decisions.

“I have to be very strategic in my decision-making and make sure I am always looking at things from a student focus because every decision I make has a ripple impact,” he said. “I take care to be very intentional that everything I decide is in the students’ best interests.”

As a new leader, Dickerson feels he’s developed a formula to turn around student achievement at the 550-student campus that received an Improvement Required rating from TEA last school year. The formula calls for creating a consistent and stable structure to the school day, hiring caring, passionate teachers who really know their students, and individualizing instruction to meet the needs of the various student populations, especially English language learners, who are the majority of Cary’s students.

Despite the challenges, the topic of students seems to enliven Dickerson. As he talks about his students, he leans in and projects passion, expressing the energy that propelled him to take on perhaps the greatest challenge an educator can face. Undaunted, his body language and his words communicate that he’s willing to do what it takes to see his students succeed.

“These students are amazing,” he says. “They’re sponges. They’ve surprised me at how well they’ve responded and how excited they are to be here.”

Dickerson is excited, too. At 3:30 a.m. on the first day of school, he made of a video of himself dancing to kick off the year in a special way. See the video here.

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