Growing up poor in Chicago isn’t necessarily a recipe for success, but it helped vault Caprice Smalley into a position of influence.
He overcame the odds and became an educator, striving to make a difference in the lives of students.
“I come from a poor family. We struggled,” Smalley, the new principal at South Pike High School, said. “My mother’s education was paused in third grade. She had challenges reading. I had brothers and sisters growing up who were disabled.
“I had teachers who supported me and showed me a better way. Now I can help show others a better way. Those students that don’t have family help, I can show them a different way.”
From Chicago, Smalley headed south to Jackson State University for an education degree. Back in Chicago, he earned a master’s degree at DePaul University. He’s currently working on a doctoral degree at William Carey University.
He has 18 years of experience in the education field, with three principalships under his belt, and jobs in public, private and charter schools. He came to South Pike from Covington County, where he was principal at Seminary Middle School.
The difficulties faced by his siblings led him to teach special education, and he has taught reading, math and social studies.
He said the challenges and the potential at South Pike led him to seek the principal’s position.
Starting the job in the midst of the chaos caused by COVID-19, with questions constantly swirling about how to serve students safely in school buildings and serve them adequately through online means, gives him the opportunity to “face a new challenge in reinventing education and what it looks like,” Smalley said.
“It’s exciting. It will be challenging to have classes while trying to meet all the CDC and Mississippi Department of Education guidelines, but we have a good plan that we’ll work under together.”
Superintendent Dr. Donna Scott’s reputation was also an incentive to seek the job.
He said his lead teacher at Seminary spoke highly of Scott after attending a workshop led by her,
Then, “I spoke with Dr. Scott, and she told how wonderful South Pike is, and when a position became available, I applied,” he said. “I like the way Dr. Scott leads, and I thought it would be good to be here with her.
“I’ve never heard anything bad about her, and when the opportunity came to work with her, I jumped on it.”
Smalley said one of his first goals is to raise the school’s ACT average from about 15 to between 18 and 21.
“That’s going to take a lot of work, and our people are going to have to work together,” he said. “I also want to have a positive climate for education, and a positive culture around the school.
“Looking at the data, there’s so much to accomplish at South Pike. Discipline actions need to go down, and in academics, there’s so much room for growth. I hope our efforts will be received well in the community.”
Smalley has been commuting from his home in Hattiesburg, but will move into a district-owned home next to the school campus by next week, when teachers report for the fall semester.
His wife, his sister and her two daughters will remain in Hattiesburg for the time being.
When he isn’t working, Smalley said he likes to travel. He’s been to 36 of the 50 states, with hopes to visit the rest, and he’s been to three continents.
As a Jackson State alumnus, he’s also looking forward to fun with the preponderance of Alcorn State University fans in the area.
More than any of that, however, he wants to bring success to South Pike.
“I was nervous to do this interview, and I think it’s because I want to do so well here,” Smalley said. “My goal is for South Pike to be the premier district in this area, for this school to be the No. 1 school in Pike County. I will do everything I can short of cheating to make that happen.”