Denny Britt on goals for Jackson Prep
Denny Britt has just been appointed as interim head of school for Jackson Preparatory School. After having worked for Prep as both chief financial officer and chief operational officer for a total of 12 years, he was chosen to keep Prep moving forward in its mission and for its students. Britt came to Prep after 24 years in the retail business with McRae’s Department Store. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s in management, both from the University of Southern Mississippi. Sun Staff Writer Megan Phillips spoke with Britt about his goals for Prep as interim head of school.
How long have you been in education?
“I’ve been in education for 12 years. I came from a retail world before this, but I’ve been at Prep for 12 years. I’ve been around education all of my life — my mother was an elementary school teacher. So, I’ve always had a passion for education and knowing what teachers go through…”
How did you get started at Jackson Prep, and what was your position before you became interim?
“I actually started 12 years ago. I was working at the McRae department stores, had a great, wonderful career with them. We got purchased by Belk, and I worked with Belk for a year before I had (this) opportunity. I got an email from a (Prep) board member that just said, ‘We’re creating this position. We think you might be good for it.’ I opened the email and looked at it, and it just felt like a job description that was written for me.”
What was the title of the position?
“It was the CFO (chief financial officer) originally, but it had a lot of operational aspects. I’ve done both operational and financial planning, so it just felt tailor-made for me… It just felt right. I was CFO for several years, and then my title changed to COO (chief operating officer), because really that’s what I was doing was operations.”
What tasks do those jobs involve?
“I’ve been involved in every aspect of the school from operations, technology, all the things we go through to support the classrooms, building projects, meetings with department chairs and faculty to try to understand what they need in the classroom and what makes a difference for them. One of the wonderful things is I’m already well-versed with what’s going on here at the school.”
What’s your educational background?
“I grew up in Brookhaven, so a little bit south of here. I went to the University of Southern Mississippi. I have a bachelor of arts and a masters of business administration from there. My undergraduate degree was in psychology, with a minor in management. My MBA is in management.”
How did you become interim head of school at Prep?
“I was offered the opportunity. The board offered, and I felt like this would just be a great chance to stretch myself and step out of my comfort zone a little bit. I don’t think you really grow as a person or in a job unless you expand your boundaries. I view my role here as sort of a bridge. That means, we don’t stop; that means we keep going. That’s just the opportunity I feel like I have this year.”
What is your primary role as interim head?
“That’s really everything. Everything that a head is responsible for. Mostly, to me, it’s about leadership. It’s about empowering this incredible group of faculty to do their jobs, to be able to be creative and innovate, and as a leader to point (us in) a direction, which is driven by our strategic plan and our mission. I’m not creating those, we’re driven by those. So, my role really this year is to keep us focused and going and unleash the abilities of the people that we already have. We have a faculty that has more than 1,400 years of experience. So, just to be surrounded by that type of knowledge and expertise is really invigorating for me, because they’re the ones that make this place.”
How much of a role will you play in choosing a permanent head of school?
“I’m sure I will be asked an opinion, but we have a committee that is being headed by Will Walker. Will Walker has been a former board member, so he is very engaged in the school, has students here, and went to school here. So, that search committee will really make that decision. They’re also looking at getting a lot of different constituencies involved in that, whether it be parents, faculty, alumni. So, there will be a lot of different voices that have an input in that. It’s a thankless job that Will has taken on, but a very important job for Prep, so I’m thankful he’s doing that.”
What are your goals for Prep while you serve as interim head?
“My goal is to keep pushing forward. We have a strategic plan that we’re in the third year of, and we have some really significant things that I think we’re going to be looking at. One initially is looking at our schedule and if it allows us the time and the creativity and the space to do some of the things that we want to do. So, we’ll be looking at changing that, and that’s a big deal, more so in the senior high than junior high. But everyone has a vested interest in that. It can help open doors to things that we haven’t been able to do in the past.
“The other thing is, we have a strategic plan that’s not heavy on building, but it’s heavy on creating. It’s heavy on doing things in the classroom and enhancing the way our teachers are able to teach and look at mastery and look at concepts and look at critical thinking — all these skills that our students have to have. Today, you can look at the newspaper industry and see how much in the last five or 10 years that radically has changed with the advent of internet and social media and all of these outlets and channels. That’s the world our kids live in today, so how do we prepare them to be in that world? So when you say, ‘What are you looking for,’ I’m trying to get my kids ready for that.”
As an interim, are you wary of making long-term decisions for the school?
“Absolutely not. We have a vision. We have a board that has laid out a plan that we’ve all created together. Not just the board, but the faculty and the staff. No hesitation at that. We’re moving forward, we’re going ahead. Clarity is always good, and we have that.”
Do you have short-term decisions you’d like to make for Prep?
“Certainly, but I think short-term and long-term go hand in hand. I would love to just continue to build on the creativity of our people and the introduction of things in our classrooms, in our performances, on our athletic fields that our faculty feel make a difference and set us apart and allow our kids to excel. Some of those are short-term, some of those are long-term. I feel like, with the parameters we’ve been given with our board and our mission, there aren’t restrictions. I feel like I’m in this role to keep us moving forward, and I’m committed to doing that.”
Can you give any specifics on that?
“I guess there are things that I’m really interested in in terms of what do we do with coding, what do we do with computer sciences, how do we prepare our kids to work in a world that is a little different than what their parents or I had, how do we get students engaged in online courses… There’s this whole realm of opportunity that opens the door to do some things we’ve never been able to do before. We’ll continue to do that.”
Since you’ve taken the role of interim head at Prep, have there been any positive surprises you’ve experienced?
“I would not say surprise, I would say positives. A lot of times, you’ll hear the mantra of ‘Prep family,’ and what I have experienced beyond measure is that continued support of our Prep family in this role. I have been lifted up in prayer, and I felt a peace about that that only the Spirit can provide, and that comes from people who love this institution, love this place, love the people that are there. Is it a surprise? No. Is it an affirmation of what we are? Absolutely.”