Duane Case, the principal at Hernando High School, doesn't think it's been his best year. Still, he won the Administrator of the Year award from the DeSoto County School District.
Congratulations to the 2022 DCS Administrator of the Year, @duanecase. The Hernando High School Principal is pictured with Supt. @cory_uselton and School Board member @HenleyMichele. #TeamDCS pic.twitter.com/DdWTvmlqzs
— DCS News (@DCSeNews) January 3, 2022
"I felt like I had had better years than this year," Case said, laughing. "But [superintendent Cory Uselton] said, 'Well, then, consider it a lifetime achievement award.'"
Case has spent his entire career working in the DeSoto County School District, starting 28 years ago when he took a job as a baseball coach, assistant football coach and teacher at Hernando High School. He was there for 12 years before going into administration as Horn Lake assistant principal for two years and then principal at DeSoto Middle School for eight. He returned to Hernando High five years ago and has been principal there ever since.
Case isn't a native of Hernando, but has been living and working there for more than half of his life and considers himself a "company man" when it comes to the DeSoto School District and Hernando High.
"When I came here 28 years ago, I really thought I would retire here as the baseball coach," Case said. "To come back here as the principal, now I have former students who work here for me and a lot of my old students and players, they have kids who come through. A lot of them still call me Coach Case...to be in our district, which is well respected throughout the state and surrounding areas, to represent DeSoto County, it's an honor. And very humbling."
Case's wife, Stephanie, whom he met while they were both attending Delta State, also works in the district. She is, as he puts it, part of his "support staff at home." Their son, a senior in high school, has spent only one of his 12 years in class a school where his parents didn't work.
What Case takes the most pride in his his faculty, especially in the last year. It hasn't been an easy year for Hernando High. In August 2021, it was the first school in the district to temporarily shut down and transition to virtual learning after reporting 60 positive students in the two weeks leading up to and during the shutdown. It was his faculty, Case said, that made the transition to virtual learning seamless.
"It's kind of a running joke, I like to be first to everything," Case said. "We were the first school to have to go virtual this year, and do hybrid. We had about two hours notice to go virtual and, my faculty handled it like champs. I felt like that was a big part of why I got it, because it was so smooth."
Other schools in the district, Case said, would call Hernando High to ask for tips on transitioning to hybrid or virtual learning.
The DeSoto County School District is the state's largest school district and the only one not to require masks in school buildings at the start of the 2021-2022 school year. Case said that while the schools worked to follow CDC guidelines and state mandates, there are still decisions that are left up to the individual schools to make.
"Certain schools in our district are a little more leery of it. Hernando is not one of them, just as a town and community," Case said. "So we have some things in place districtwide that we do, but yeah...they don't say you need to add some lunches to space people out, that's kind of a principal's decision. Because everybody's school is different. And some of them are humongous and we're kind of big, we're big for most people, but not for DeSoto County."
Hernando High School has added a lunch period and has stopped breakouts in the common area, where everybody previously would have been shoulder to shoulder in one place.
Case, like most principals in the age of COVID-19, still worries about what will happen in the second half of the school year.
"Every principal is worried, not semester, but week to week. At the end of last school year, it had kind of become almost non-existent, if we had a positive, people were like 'what? That's so 2020,'" Case joked. "Then right before, in July, it started ramping up again and we were worried, like 'are we going to start school.' So then we started and then we went virtual and then we went hybrid and then it kind of had another valley and then it's kind of ramping up again. So we just try to take the precautions that we can and our kids are pretty good about it."
"We do try and take precautions and clean a little extra," Case said. "A lot of our athletes, I don't know if this is good or bad, but a lot of our athletes that are in season, they're wearing masks because the way to not get quarantined is if you're wearing a mask."
No matter what happens, Case is confident that his faculty will be able to handled it.
"With COVID-19 for the last few years, and I have bragged on them quite a bit, I have never seen people step in so much and help one another," Case said. "If someone was out, somebody would step in and help teach their class, or they would do zooms or do stuff with their class."
Case chose to have the the administrator of the year reception at Hernando High instead of its normal location, the district offices, because of how grateful he is to his faculty.
"[Uselton] asked me if I wanted to do it different and I wanted to do it here," Case said. "I just felt like my teachers and assistant principals, they're the reason I got it. So we had the reception here, because I just felt like they were a huge part if not completely why I got this."
Case is looking forward to being at Hernando High for, hopefully, many more years.
"I've been here almost my entire life, and this is where I'll finish my career," Case said.
Gina Butkovich covers DeSoto County, storytelling and general news. She can be reached at 901-232-6714.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Duane Case won the 2021 administrator of the year award