Dana Road principal says she’s home

Published 7:06 pm Monday, August 14, 2017

LaShonda Keyes-Smith knew right away  this was where she wanted to be.

In her 15 years in the Vicksburg Warren School District, Keyes-Smith had done a little bit of everything.

After time spent at Vicksburg Intermediate, Grove Street Alternative School and Vicksburg Junior High, as soon as she set foot inside Dana Road Elementary, she knew she was home.

“It was awesome,” she said of her first time at the school. “The day that I came in to interview for assistant principal, I was like this is where I want to be. It was welcoming. The staff was wonderful.”

Keyes-Smith spent the 2016-17 school year as an assistant principal at Dana Road, and this year she assumes the role of principal at the school following the retirement of Sherrie Bourgeois.

“After I got here and got started, she [Bourgeois] told me, ‘“This is my last year, I’m retiring, I would love to see you take over,’” Keyes-Smith said. “From day one, she groomed me for this position. I was blessed to walk into this position and I was blessed to have her because she really prepared me for this.”

Even with the guiding hand of Bourgeois to lead her, the adjustment to Dana Road still took time. Keyes-Smith had spent the last three years as an assistant principal at Vicksburg Junior High and had to acclimate to elementary school.

“I didn’t quite know how I would fit in with this age group,” she said. “I had upper elementary [at Vicksburg Intermediate]. I embraced them. I can’t recall a bad day. Even if something did get to me, it was nothing for me to go down the hall. They embrace you. I get knee hugs all day long. It has been life changing.”

As she takes the reigns as the principal, Keyes-Smith said her goal is to continue to build upon the foundation Bourgeois built and continue to work to see Dana Road improve.

“I want to pick up where she left off and lead it on the best way I can,” Keyes-Smith said. “Our lighthouse team has already met. We started everything at the end of the year. We started preparing in May. We are trying to reach lighthouse status this year. I am picking up where she left off.”

Keyes-Smith said Dana Road is 85 percent of the way to reaching lighthouse status in the Leader in Me program. Her goal by the end of the year is to finish the process and be deemed a lighthouse school.

“That will be a big accomplishment for Dana Road,” she said. “That will be a big accomplishment for the district. There are not many schools in the United States that have reached lighthouse status.”

Part of the process will be continuing to build a family-like atmosphere at the school between the administration, teachers and students. “I look at myself, and I’ve said this to the kids and in front of the teachers, the students see us more than they see anybody,” Keyes-Smith said. “They are with us eight hours out of the day. I like to think of it as we are the parents when they are here.”

That will take a complete buy-in from the staff at the school, and Keyes-Smith said what she is looking for this year is “hard work and dedication.”

“If I can get 100 percent participation from everybody in teambuilding and building that family environment, and knowing that everyone has give 100 percent of what they have to make sure our kids are ready to move up to the next, that is what I want to see,” she said.

There will be challenges in the first year in a new role, but Keyes-Smith said her year of familiarity with the school and students will ease the transition from assistant principal to being charge.

“I am comfortable with the staff. I know who I am working with,” she said. “They pretty much know my expectations. I know the kids except the new pre-K. Everything is going to be familiar.

“The difference is, at the end of the day I have the final say. I stayed in my role as an assistant principal. The final say always came from Mrs. Bourgeois. The difference is now I make that final decision.”

She is ready for the challenge though and can’t wait to see what the year holds.

“I am excited about the year to come,” Keyes-Smith said. “I am excited about my position. I am excited about Dana Road.”