UM prepares doctoral candidate Marcus Stewart for first year as Mississippi high school principal
Having finished his doctorate from the University of Mississippi while also completing his first year as a high school principal in one of Mississippi’s largest districts – all during a global pandemic – Marcus Stewart can’t believe he ever doubted himself.
It all seems so silly now as he sits a few days ahead of adding “Dr.” to his name. Stewart’s professors and colleagues say they have never doubted he was up to any challenge that lay before him, though.
The native of Holmes County was teaching there and wanted more for himself, and also to be able to do more for the students. He was encouraged by Tom Burnham, former dean of the UM School of Education and former state superintendent of education, to join the university’s Principal Corps, of which Burnham is director.
Stewart began to kick it around, and it seemed doable.
“Ole Miss is what opened the door and helped me meet all of these amazing students and colleagues,” Stewart said. “I am thankful for so many things Ole Miss has given to me.”
When Stewart overcame the hesitance and joined the education leadership program, he encountered many who saw something in him and dug deep to bring the best out of him, he said.
“They developed my talents,” Stewart said. “I was fairly new, and I was a little rough around the edges. I doubted myself. Ole Miss is the flagship, top of the line, and I second-guessed myself about whether I was ready.
“I can’t say enough about any of the professors. They can see much more in you than you can see in yourself.”
The work has paid off. Stewart is head principal of Richland High School in Richland. While working in that important role, he completed his Ed.D. in education leadership from the university.
His research, focused on implementing and evaluating education interventions to reduce disparities in ACT results for students of color, has direct applications for educational efforts in the state. He is a role model for students at his school and students at the university.
This, while he’s been finishing his own doctorate and putting his son, Amauri, through college as well.
Not to mention, he got his feet wet as a principal during the time of pandemic, when many new safety protocols were being put into place. He believes Ole Miss trained him well on how to take care of the students during such a situation.
“They taught us how to approach situations and to always be tactful and focused on safety, and being mindful of times of transition for the students,” Stewart said. “All of these things came back to me from what I’ve learned at Ole Miss. It’s been extremely helpful during these times.
“You have to keep your schools safe and functioning, and I know how to do that. I owe a lot of that to the Ole Miss experience. It’s a big family and they’ve always been there for me and continue to be there for me.”
Stewart has demonstrated all the best qualities of a doctoral student through his amazing “strength of will and character, professionalism, dedication and wisdom,” said Jill B. Cabrera, associate professor of leadership and counselor education.
“In the midst of challenging circumstances – and especially in this academic year – he has shown a positive attitude and been steadfast,” Cabrera said. “Marcus inspires me to be my best as a faculty member because he has such a deep desire to learn as well as to make a positive difference for our Mississippi public school students.”
Stewart is the kind of leader that all teachers need to experience at some point, said LaToria Pittmon, a math teacher at Brandon High School – also in the Rankin School District with Richland – and Beta Club sponsor. What sets him apart is that he leads by example, and always takes the initiative and works hard, she said.
“There was never a time that I wanted to incorporate something new into my classroom that he didn’t say, ‘Shoot for it!” Pittmon said. “He is not afraid to take the road less traveled by tackling hard projects and getting them done with ease.”
She credits him, too, with being mindful of the importance of developing others to lead as well.
“He gives teachers opportunities to develop their leadership skills and continuously get better in this profession,” Pittmon said. “The best thing of all is that he’s one call away.
“Education is not always easy, but he always has something encouraging to say when we think the worst.”
Stewart, who is excited to graduate as a member of the Class of 2021, said he feels good about the future.
“I feel like I am prepared and I feel like I have had the best experience I could have had to get me ready for this moment, where I’m approaching it and I do feel very confident,” Stewart said. “I mean, here we are. We’ve worked really hard and we’re still here, and now we have people we can always reach out to in the future.”
Story by Michael Newsom/University Marketing & Communications