Doug Payne knew pretty quickly in life what he wanted to do.
Growing up, he knew his mother was a teacher’s aid. But he really didn’t know what she did until he saw her in a classroom. It was his mother who convinced him to become a substitute teacher, which led to his eventual career choice.
“She was a special education assistant and did everything a teacher did and did a great job,” Payne said. “She talked me into subbing when I was old enough. I knew then what I wanted to do. It got me from there to where I am now.”
Payne, who is principal of Center Hill High School, was selected as the DeSoto County Schools Administrator of the Year on March 22.
He said while he is grateful for the recognition, he credits his success to the great administrators and teachers in DeSoto County and at Center Hill.
“It feels good,” Payne said. “I know how good my colleagues are and the other administrators who I have worked with in the district a long time now. So to be considered as the best of those is a great feeling and I am proud of it.”
The DeSoto County native started his career in 2000 at Hernando High School as a special education teacher where he stayed for four years. He got married and left for two years to coach soccer in Corinth, but came back home when he was hired as assistant principal at Horn Lake High School.
“I didn’t leave the county for very long,” Payne said. “I gained a lot of great experience over there.”
Payne was then named principal of Center Hill Middle School which was a unique job because the school hadn’t even been built yet.
“That was interesting because we didn’t have a building,” Payne said. “So I was creating schedules and working on things for a building that didn’t exist yet.”
Starting from the ground up though, allowed him to set the tone and goals for the school culture there early on.
“One of the hardest things to do in a school is to change the culture,” Payne said. “So I knew how important it was for it to be set the right way. I had a team and the community was involved and the kids and staff. We tried our best to set a culture in that school that we wouldn’t have to change down the road.”
Four years later, Payne moved up to become principal of Center Hill High School. Both schools earned the prestigious distinction of being recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools.
“That was one of our proudest moments,” Payne said. “It’s a great honor. We’ve had recognition at the district and state level before, but it’s been several years since a high school in Mississippi has been recognized. So to be recognized on a national level, that was something. It’s a good measure of the time we put in. I’m not sure the kids there now appreciate what that means. But they will understand later as they get older. I know the parents do. And our teachers do. It’s good to know the hard work has paid off.”
Payne said he is very fortunate to have an excellent staff of teachers who he trusts and who trust him in return.
“I have over 70 teachers in the building and believe it or not, they don’t always agree on everything,” Payne said. “So it is my job to make sure at the end of the day we do agree on things and we agree we are going to do the best things for the kids. Everybody in this building and in the district is very talented. I trust them to do the best they can. So I have been very blessed to have some really talented people to work with and am very lucky because they don’t need much guidance.”
Payne said COVID-19 has been a big challenge this year, but teachers and the district have done an outstanding job to meet challenges head on and to provide the best education under the circumstances.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Payne said. “We started out with a lot of challenges and there are still a lot of unknowns. Teachers have had to work harder than they have ever had to. They had to learn a new system. But we got through it. We survived and are still surviving. I continue to tell them we will get back to normalcy. This isn’t the new normal. It’s just the now normal. I feel like we tested our limits and figured things out, and I feel like we are a stronger staff and a stronger school for it.”
Payne is now a nominee for state administrator of the year by the Mississippi Department of Education.