New MHS principal expects much of school's students

September 20, 2011

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Students will see two sides of the personality of Martinsville High School’s new principal, Aji Dixon.

He has both a tough side and a caring side.

Dixon said he will not tolerate nonsense during the school day. He has high expectations of students, and he expects them to come to school prepared and eager to learn each day.

“Yes, I’m going to be tough at times,” such as if students misbehave and he thinks they need to be disciplined, he said.

However, “one of the most important things I can do is let students know I care about them,” said Dixon. “I hope they would see me as a principal who always has time for them. I’m never too busy” to make time for students.

He tries to talk with students whenever he can, such as during lunch periods, he said. And, if pupils have concerns they want to discuss with him privately, they are always welcome to stop by his office, he added.

“I would hope that they could trust me like a parent,” Dixon said.

A principal’s most important task, as it relates to students, is to work with them to make sure they get the best education possible, he emphasized — not administering punishments for wrongdoings.

In working with young people, Dixon said, principals and teachers must “go the extra mile” and “not just do things in your job description.”

He mentioned, for instance, that a teacher at MHS recently drove a student who recently graduated from the high school to the college that the student now attends because the student’s parents were unable to do so. He would not name either the teacher or the student for privacy reasons.

“If you’re going above and beyond to help kids,” Dixon said, noting that situation as an example, “you’re on the right track.”

The high school is “not short on people who want to help” students, he said. Still, “I want to encourage more of that” (going beyond duties specified in job descriptions) among MHS employees.

Dixon assumed his post on Aug. 8. A Henry County resident, he previously was an assistant principal at William Fleming High School in Roanoke. He had various leadership responsibilities there, including oversight of social studies and bus transportation as well as assisting with the evaluation of personnel, according to information provided by the Martinsville schools.

Before he joined the Roanoke schools in 2010, he spent seven years with the Henry County Schools as a teacher and administrator. That experience included chairing the social studies department at Magna Vista High School and serving as assistant principal for seventh-graders at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School.

He was attracted to the MHS principalship because he saw it as a chance to spend more time working with students one-on-one.

MHS has about 700 students, while William Fleming has about 1,670, Dixon said. The more students that are in a school, the less individualized attention that teachers and principals sometimes can give students, he indicated.

He also liked that the Martinsville schools require teachers and principals to visit students’ homes periodically. He thinks making connections with pupils’ families improves the educational process, he said, because it lets educators find out about things at home — such as poverty — that may hurt students’ abilities to learn.

Dixon earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and criminal justice from East Tennessee State University and a master’s in school administration from Cambridge College. He now is pursuing a doctorate in education.

He considered going to law school, but he decided to become an educator after graduating from East Tennessee.

Teachers and coaches “were an important part of my life” while growing up, recalled Dixon, a 1999 graduate of Patrick County High School. “I wanted to give back a little of what I received” from them in terms of encouragement and support.

Dixon said he wants MHS teachers and staff to work together to develop ideas for improving instruction to help make students want to learn. Good instruction keeps students engaged in their lessons and reduces discipline problems, he said.

He added that he wants to “guard instructional time” by keeping classroom disruptions — such as announcements over loudspeakers — at a minimum.

“Teachers need to be able to teach” in the limited time allotted to classes, he said.

Dixon succeeds former principal Natasha Rowell, who left MHS in June after just four months there to be a high school principal in Wisconsin. Previously, she was the principal at Albert Harris Elementary School.

Rowell’s predecessor at MHS, Tom Fitzgibbons, was in the post for more than a decade and was well-respected in the community. He was promoted to a central office job but has since left the city schools to work in the private sector.

Dixon said he feels no pressure following in Fitzgibbons’ footsteps. He said he wants to hear public concerns about the high school because that is how principals find out about the needs of their schools.

“I will be accessible” to the public, and “we’ll build a great rapport,” he said.


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