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Derrick Maxwell, the principal of Cedar Shoals High School, poses for a photo outside of the school on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 in Athens, Georgia. Maxwell has is a University of Georgia graduate originally from Griffin, Georgia, but has worked at Cedar Shoals in some capacity for the past 17 years. (Photo/Rebecca Wright)

Derrick Maxwell, Cedar Shoals High School principal, did not originally intend to get into academia.

He graduated from the University of Georgia in 2002 with a psychology degree. Maxwell taught seventh grade life science while he figured out the next steps in his career path. That is, until the principal of his school saw his leadership potential and recommended Maxwell search for programs that would lead him to an administrative certification and a Master’s degree.

“[My goal as a principal is] to create an environment where we can have high expectations but still have a positive school culture, in hopes that it will make a more desirable place for people to work and send their children to,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell received his Master’s degree in educational administration and policy from George Washington University and began working in leadership positions in the Central Office for Athens City Schools before becoming an assistant principal at Burney-Harris-Lyons Middle School for five years and principal of Whit Davis Elementary for four years.

In 2016, Maxwell served as an interim principal for Cedar Shoals High School during an investigation into how the administration handled a reported rape on the school’s campus. Two years later, in 2018, Maxwell returned as principal of Cedar Shoals High School.

Maxwell hopes to reset the culture button for Cedar Shoals and reinvigorate pride within the community.

“In the '90s, Cedar Shoals was a school of excellence. Bill Clinton came and presented awards, and then we kind of got away from it for whatever reason. We’re just trying to bring it back,” Maxwell said.

He also hopes to work with the administration to decrease turnover with teachers and faculty to help maintain focus on the students while dealing with all of the distractions that the community and social media may bring.

“We have a lot of students who do a tremendous amount of great work, but it’s not as newsworthy at times,” Maxwell said. “We have to be proactive in putting out positive media as well, and we realize we have work to do there. That’s something we want to be intentional about.”

Maxwell said the most rewarding part of his job is seeing all of the different accomplishments the students make.

“A lot of our students come from very adverse situations and to see them step out of what society has expected of them, to do great things, engage and become leaders not just in the school but in the community at such a young age,” Maxwell said.

Resetting the 'culture button'

He plans to work with new district leadership to improve Cedar Shoals throughout the school year and in years to come. They hope to specifically focus their work on implementing new initiatives that will dismantle some of the inequitable practices that were created throughout the years.

Recently, the Clarke-County School District released its 2017-2018 student discipline data results. As previously reported by The Red & Black, the data revealed racial disparity in discipline incidents.

The Clarke County School District Board of Education revised its Code of Student Conduct for the 2018-2019 year. The Code of Conduct emphasizes the importance of school culture and climate to student success through the use of fair, consistent  and progressive discipline, according to the CCSD Code of Conduct.

“Additionally, the CCSD is dedicated to collecting, reporting and using disaggregated discipline data to assess whether the discipline systems are effective for ALL students. Culturally responsive discipline practices are critical to reducing discipline disparities,” states the CCSD Code of Conduct.

The CCSD 2018-2020 Strategic Plan also emphasizes the county’s push towards educational equity. The plan recognizes a disparity in educational performance that can be categorized by race, ethnicity, gender, disability and language. The Strategic Plans sets initiatives for CCSD to go against the historically unjust education system.

Jamie Hogan, a first year assistant principal for Cedar Shoals High School who has been a part of the Clarke County School District since 2005, identified Maxwell as a dedicated educator and an effective instructional leader.

“Based on teacher, student and community feedback, Maxwell has done a phenomenal job of building a caring and trusting school environment for all stakeholders in a relatively short period of time. Building community and enhancing the social emotional well being of our student population is key to addressing inequities,” Hogan said in an email.

Maxwell is recentering the school around data tools and systems to ensure that Cedar Shoals monitors student progress and analyzes the curriculum, instruction and assessment the students undergo.

“One of Maxwell’s greatest strengths is utilizing the RIGHT data to inform decision making at the school level. I am confident we are on the right track toward a successful school year at Cedar Shoals,” Hogan said in an email.

Maxwell believes one of the most important parts of a school’s success is hiring, and a stable administration tends to lead to a decrease in teacher turnover.  

“The more rich your applicant pool is, the more selective you can be in hiring high-quality, dedicated individuals. And those individuals, on the front line every day, can really transform the culture of the school,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell is currently working toward his doctoral degree in K-12 leadership from Valdosta State University.

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