ASHLAND • Malcanee Unseld Mason walked down the familiar hallways lined with metal blue lockers; the same hallways where as a youth he proudly wore his Blue Devil basketball uniform. As he walked around taking in some of the new changes and improvements, he reflected on his time as a young boy with hopes and dreams at Ashland High School. He thought back to a simpler time and a time where he describes the teachers and students at AHS as being more like an extended family.
Mason was home and ready to take on his new leadership role as Principal of Ashland High School.
Though at first Mason was admittedly not keen on the idea of taking the job position as principal in his small hometown, he had a sense, while standing in the old auditorium where he had once walked across the stage to receive his diploma, that it was time for him to come back to the place of his roots. “I am a piece of fruit from this tree. There are many others who have come from this tree as well and who have experienced ultimate success. Sometimes because of this region, they may have to move to other places, but their roots will always remain in Benton County,” said Mason.
“When I walked into AHS after agreeing to take this job, I thought back to my high school years, and I took a trip down memory lane. I remembered attending Mr. Fortenberry’s biology class, Mr. Hick’s history class on the other end of the building, Ms. Renick’s Algebra I class, Ms. Richard’s gifted class, and Ms. Orman’s accounting class. I also took note of some of the changes. When I attended AHS, we played basketball in what we called the old barn; it is presently torn down, and now a new gymnasium stands in its place. There also used to be an old two-story white house where the computer building is now,” remembered Mason.
“I considered how I am from the corporal punishment era,” laughed Mason. “I remembered fondly how our principal, Mr. Jimmy Robinson, was a stern, but fair man. I also recalled back on how it seemed there was an expectation of the students at Ashland to perform at a certain level,” said Mason.
“I remembered how Ms. Orman, our accounting teacher, would talk about the basketball games. The games would be on the radio, and I may have had a really good game, and she would tease me, ‘Unseld, I want to tell you, the guy on the radio had a lot of good things to say about you, but don't you get the big head like you don't have to do your work today.’ I thought back to how even outside the school building, the teachers cared for their students. If I saw a teacher around town, and I was doing something I shouldn't have been doing, that teacher would call me over, and inform me that I knew my mom raised me better,” said Mason.
“I just reflected back on all of that and how they (at AHS) seemed to wrap their arms around us and how the school was a family. I knew then that I wanted to recreate that sense of belonging, understanding, and accountability for each other,” said Mason.
“Being the spiritual person I am, I feel that AHS is where I am being called at this season in my life. Even though there is more opportunity and income in Shelby County, these are my roots. After examining the situation, what I am seeing at AHS is opportunity,” said Mason.
“I have a vision for the students at AHS to realize their greatness. I have a desire to assist students in building up character and academics and becoming well-rounded individuals. I want to help our students understand their responsibility and role here at AHS. I want them to feel a sense of pride and to understand that there are no limitations because they are from a small town in Benton County. I need them to see that the sky is the limit for them and to provide them with the type of support that they need in order to reach their goals. I want the students to understand that labels don't determine their destiny; they determine their own destiny. I want to be an example. I have a desire to help our educators and our students, as well as parents, to develop a culture of inclusiveness and a high expectation of greatness. I want to create an atmosphere of excellence,” said Mason.
Sandy Childs Jones, Ashland High School Instructional Facilitator and English Instructor, expressed her eagerness to work with Principal Mason for the upcoming school year. “I am very excited to have Mr. Mason at AHS. I look forward to working closely with him. I truly believe that he has the best interests of the kids and our staff at heart. He is just amazing with his ideas and plans for the school and (to use his words) ‘the rebirth of Ashland High School,’’ said Jones.
Mason received his undergraduate degree from Jackson State University, his graduate degree from University of Memphis, and his specialist degree from Union University. Although it was not in his plans to become an educator, it was evident to those around him that he held a passion for youth.
After graduating from Jackson State with a degree in Industrial Psychology, Mason was successful in real estate and owned several businesses. But all the while, he seemed to be pulled toward activities involving youth and found himself having a good rapport with young people. He mentored youth through coaching ball and holding seminars to help nurture young people to reach their full potential. Others around him took notice of his devotion in helping youth and encouraged him to go into a career in education where he could make a difference.
“I started looking at being an educator. I realized it was my calling and decided to go back to college and go into the education field as a second career. So much drew me into being an educator. For example, being an African-American male, looking at the state of us in America, I knew that we were so much more than how we were portrayed in print and in media, and I wanted to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. I wanted to be an example of what we are and what we could be. What better way to help impact young minds and have a day-to-day influence. My reason for getting into education was so much bigger than me. I felt I had a responsibility and something to share with the young people,” explained Mason.
Mason, born to a single parent, certainly faced difficulties growing up and is aware of the power of positive influences. He remembers the positive attributes of teachers in his own life. His math teacher in his middle school years, John Bostick, was one of those that impacted Mason’s life and taught him to do well inside, as well as, outside of the classroom.
However, of all his influences, Mason will quickly acknowledge that his mother was responsible for inspiring him to do well. His mother held two jobs most of his childhood. One of those jobs was working as a teacher’s assistant. Mason tells of how education was always a priority with his mother, even though she herself did not obtain a college degree. “My mom was a very sharp person even though she didn't go to college. One of the things she did was to challenge me to be my very best. Education was always a priority. I remember as a small child, even when I was in preschool, I had all these books to read. She would say, ‘Come read to me, baby.’ So I would read to her, and she would read to me, and we would talk about it. At that time, we had the whole series of little children’s story books, Cinderella, Snow White, and The Seven Dwarfs. I would read those books over and over again. Even though she worked two jobs most of my life, she would still take time to sit and listen to me read,” said Mason.“The first and foremost person who kept education in the forefront of my life would definitely be my mom.”
Knowing how his mother’s involvement with his education helped him, Mason realizes how important parental involvement is to a student’s success. However, he explained his understanding that it can sometimes be intimidating to parents to be involved. “Sometimes parents are not as involved because they can be intimidated, especially with the technology world we now live in. We are going to have several types of training to assist parents. We want to include our parents and have them come and observe exactly what types of tasks our students are carrying out and instruct the parents on how to help their children with their work. We also want to establish a line of communication with parents and have it so that we both want the best for “our child”. We want parents of AHS students to be included in our growth process. Our main focus is on our students, of course, but next is our parents because we understand they go hand-in-hand. The more involved we can get our parents in helping us with accountability, with high expectations, and have parents understand that the decisions we make are in the best interests of the children, the more success we will see with our school,” said Mason.
Mason shared that he has grand plans for AHS. “Our mission at Ashland High School is for AHS to be the premier school it has always been destined to be by taking it step by step,” said Mason.
“I want to build bridges with neighboring schools, not just Benton County, but other surrounding counties, also. It’s great that we can be competitors on the football fields, the basketball courts, and all those competitive arenas, but when it comes to education, we should all be sharing what works to help the students. If you have something working for your students, I want to see it; I want a part of it. I want to build those bridges with other districts so that we can start looking at ourselves as an educational community,” said Mason.
“We have plans in place to raise ACT scores. Sandy Jones, our Instructor Facilitator, as well as Dr. Hobson, our Assistant Superintendent and Director of Curriculum, have looked into a program that has had success with ACT preparation; we are going to be implementing that program with our students this year,” informed Mason.
“We are geared toward and focused on striving to raise our level, state scores, and attendance rates,” said Mason. “We also have plans for a choir, STEM program, debate team, and band program.”
“I am pleased to have Mr. Mason at AHS. He is a proven leader, and he has big plans to raise our state testing scores. I am thrilled for this school year,” stated Casondra Hopkins, math instructor at AHS.
Mason and his wife Carol have two children. They presently live in the Shelby County area. He is the son of Shirley and Albert Griffin of Holly Springs. Mason describes himself as a sports junkie and likes to support his Memphis Tigers. Mason attends church at Heron Baptist Church where he and his wife lead a couples ministry. Mason also enjoys singing in the choir.
“Working in education has proven to be even more rewarding than I thought it would be. My job is all about the students. My reason for being in this career is being a part of the solution, not the problem,” stated AHS Principal Mason.
Go to ahs.benton.k12.ms for info and updates at Ashland High School and Ashland Middle School and to view messages from AHS Principal.