2020 Educator of Excellence: Derek King

Derek King WEB

Derek King, Vice Principal at Southwind High School, comes from a long line of educators. His mother and grandmother were both career educators, so it was always on his radar. After leaving his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, to attend Rhodes College, King fell in love with Memphis.

While at Rhodes, he had an opportunity to volunteer at Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School and Memphis University School (MUS) through the Rhodes Summer of Service Fellowship. That experience confirmed that he wanted to follow in the family footsteps.

He followed up his undergraduate studies with the Mississippi Teaching Corps through Ole Miss, where he completed his Masters, specialties, and doctoral work. He spent six years in Mississippi teaching and coaching, where he became one of the youngest head coaches for North Panola High School football. And when the opportunity was right, he and his family came back to Memphis.

“Memphis is the place to be for education because there is so much potential here,” King explains. “And not potential in the mindset of someone needs to teach someone how to be better, but it's a place where folks have so much talent.

After wearing numerous hats over the years, King knew he wanted to step into administration.

“I wanted to get into school administration because I knew I'd have the opportunity to affect the school at large,” he says. “I knew I could impact the whole building, the whole community so what better way to do it than to go into administration? I knew that my classroom work, my relationship with the kids, and just my overall personality and impact could make a difference school-wide.”

As a school leader, emphasis on a celebratory culture is King’s trademark. Rightfully so, after his team is responsible for raising the graduation rate at Southwind by about 7% and graduating over 330 seniors. “We were announcing scholarships on the intercom every period, announcing acceptances, and it changed the overall atmosphere of the school.”

King knows that those high school successes started much earlier, with a strong foundation in early education. “Early education is important because the earlier kids are exposed to text, the earlier they are exposed to academic conversation, the earlier they are exposed to critical thinking makes all the difference. Being very intentional with exposure to this kind of critical thinking helps kids. You don't have to have a degree in child development, you don't have to have a masters in curriculum instruction. Just ask yourself what allowed me to function well as an adult in this society, and can I convey that to what kids need so that when it's their turn, when it's their time, they can do the same thing.”