Urban education isn’t for the faint-hearted, and Ben Dickerson would know.
The new principal at Cary Middle School found his way into education after a stint in the U.S. Coast Guard, and said the military and education share a similarity in that both are driven by core values. While ambition is critical for both students and staff, more important is the safety of his “unit.”
“This has been the hardest job I’ve ever had,” Dickerson said. “I had scary experiences in the military, but the challenge of urban education is very daunting, and it’s something you have to have perseverance for. Going through rigorous military training with a common focus has helped me in the unit that is my school. If I learned anything applicable in the military, it was self-discipline and the art of communication. The school is my ship. Safety of the crew is priority.”
Born and raised just north of San Francisco, Dickerson went straight into the U.S. Coast Guard after high school. He was stationed at three units in five years, including Ketchikan, Alaska; Yorktown, Va.; and San Francisco.
After the military, his career path was unclear, and school in California was not an option because it was too expensive. He and his wife moved to Texas, where he graduated from UT-Dallas with a criminology degree and later found himself interested in teaching.
He taught at a local charter school and later moved into administration as an assistant principal at Thomas Jefferson High School. He earned a master’s degree from SMU, during which he was sponsored by Teaching Trust, a nonprofit that helps place high-performing teachers or administrators in areas of low socioeconomic status. Dickerson is now in his last year with the Teaching Trust and credits a lot of his success to the program.
“It was a key element in my rapid learning and ability to accelerate into administration,” he said.
Dickerson said there is a misconception that reading and writing is only taught in elementary school and everything builds from there. Instead, it is his belief that reading and writing should be a primary focus even in middle school, with special attention to those whose native tongue is not English.
Once literacy is established, test scores will rise, and critical thinking skills develop, he said. Cary was the only Dallas ISD school in District 1 to be labeled “improvement required” in the most recent Texas Education Agency accountability ratings.
“I am looking forward to him restoring the communities’ belief that Cary students are high achievers,” said Cary assistant principal Keysha Smith. “He brings consistency in message and optimism for our journey this school year. ‘Your best is better than perfection’ is what he says each day on the announcements. By doing so, he puts a focus on effort and positive relationships as a means of supporting students to believe they can achieve.”