Since growing up in Aberdeen and graduating from Oak Hill Academy in 1984, Aberdeen High School’s new principal, Dr. Dana Bullard, has ventured down a career path mostly centered on education. That path ultimately led to the position as bureau director of innovative programs and accelerated programs with the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE).
From implementing a middle-college program to offering leadership electives at AHS, she is bringing innovative ideas into her latest role.
“I’m probably going to make some mistakes because I’m going to take risks. Our kids are counting on us to take risks. We’ve got to be brave enough for our kids to have opportunities,” she said.
Through her MDE role, she has worked with early-college high schools and middle-college programs across the state, where high schools and colleges collaborate.
East Mississippi Community College, for example, has a regional early-college high school in that eighth-graders from schools in its service area can apply. In ninth and 10th grade, those accepted take basic high school courses. In 11th and 12th grade, they are integrated with the regular community college students, enabling them to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.
Beginning its first year this semester, AHS’ middle-college program is very similar, and the school is partnering with Itawamba Community College. This fall, Tupelo High School will also partner with ICC, and Oxford High School will partner with Northwest Mississippi Community College for middle-college programs.
“The early-college high schools try to make sure all the kids have taken their state tests by ninth and 10th grade. Once they’ve gotten all of those rigorous courses through with, they can choose to go to a community college,” she said. “Any students who at the end of 10th grade have met the requirements to attend the middle-college program, we’re going to work with them and our counselor at the counselor at ICC to schedule their classes. We’re going to provide transportation, send them to Tupelo, they’re going to take classes there every day and then come back here and take the remaining classes they need to take on our campus.”
If a student has tested into a college math, for example, he or she could take dual credit Algebra I at ICC and classes back at AHS in the afternoon.
“ICC has a four-day week. On Fridays, the young adults will come in to the school and they will be meeting here in a junior seminar or a senior seminar so they will be focused on resume writing, how to look for jobs, how to apply for FAFSA, how to apply for jobs, all those kind of things young adults need to do to transition,” she said. “The best thing about a middle-college program is a student can step a toe in the water with support. We’re not just turning them loose at a community college. They’re in a controlled environment.”
A team of teachers and counselors will go through all junior and senior test scores and transcripts to identify which students need enhancement and, on the other side, which students need remediation.
Additionally, Bullard wants students to be more active in giving back to Aberdeen.
“I think the best way I can personally give back is to make sure our students are part of community service and community improvement. We’re definitely going to have more community service as part of our clubs at our school. I want it to be that our kids are seen as part of the growth of the community,” Bullard said.
She wants there to be leadership electives in that students can do outreach through local nonprofits.
“My main goal as principal is I don’t want to change things…I want teachers to be empowered to teach and take the reins to move forward to give the kids what they need,” she said. “I want it to be a school where the kids want to come to school here and it has things they know will be important to their future.
She wants students to feel like part of the team and will have a principal’s panel of students which addresses what students want at school.
“I’m so happy to have this opportunity. I’ve met so many students and parents already and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m proud to be able to come back and work here and see what opportunities these kids can have and see what kinds of greatness they can achieve,” she said.
Bullard majored in English and classical studies at Millsaps and earned her graduate degree from Ole Miss. In 2017, she earned her doctorate from Vanderbilt.
She has also taught as East Mississippi Community College’s Columbus Air Force Base campus, the University of Tennessee-Martin’s McNairy Center and Corinth High School before her MDE role.