McComb School District: A Conversation with Dr. Cederick Ellis

Q&A   02 March 2017
By Dr. Cederick Ellis


Mindset shifts are most profound and sustainable when they reach a person’s heart and soul.

Dr. Cederick Ellis
Superintendent, McComb School District

Q. What sparked your interest in pursuing a career in education? What do you see as the key components to shifting mindsets?

A. I come from a family of educators. Therefore, becoming an educator was probably a part of my DNA and an inevitable path for my unknown future. However, becoming an educator was not initially in my future plans. In college, I studied computer science and computer information systems and had goals of becoming a computer scientist. Somehow, I landed a position as a computer science professor at a community college. It was during that time I realized being an educator was my calling. Also during that time, I came to the realization that K-12 education was where I could make the greatest impact on the lives of students. After serving 23.5 years in education and 15.5 as an educational administrator, I’m convinced that education is my ministry.

Regarding mindset shifts, I’ve noticed mindset shifts only occur when there is a cultural shift. Our way of life must shift in order for our mindset to shift. I’ve also found that mindset shifts are most profound and sustainable when they reach a person’s heart and soul.

Q. Historically, Mississippi’s education system has performed poorly relative to other states. What opportunities did you see given these circumstances? And, did McComb provide anything exceptionally unique to act on those possibilities?

A. The McComb School District has faced the harsh reality that our 1850’s model of public schooling must change, and we accept the urgency now. Fully cognizant that change is always painful, difficult, and divisive, we also recognize and take full responsibility for a very basic and fundamental truth—our state’s and school district’s educational system, as it is currently designed and operated, will not meet the needs of our 21st century, digital-native learners.

As a result, the McComb School District embarked on the creation and implementation of a highly innovative approach to 21st-century teaching and learning. Our version of learner-centered education, student-centered teaching and learning, has the potential to change the educational landscape for a state that has been traditionally underperforming.

It is our belief that our model will drive the constructive disruption of traditional public schooling in Mississippi by delivering a “death blow” to the “one-size-fits-all” approach to teaching and learning and provide a scalable prototype for realistic, valid, reliable, and much needed school and school district reform elsewhere. Student-centered teaching and learning has the potential to serve as a proof point for the effectiveness of personalized learning related to school turnaround.

As we continue our implementation, we believe a diffusion of ideas will spread, helping to influence the adoption of learner-centered, student-centered teaching and learning throughout the district and perhaps throughout the State of Mississippi as a viable and successful turnaround model.

This cultural educational shift; where pedagogy, assessments, support systems, and culture are refocused to facilitate student progress organized around mastery instead of age and seat time; is intended to transform schools into stable, well-governed, high-performing, and financially-responsible public schools. This cultural educational shift meets the needs of ALL students through personalized instruction. All students are provided multiple and unique opportunities to acquire the skills needed to be successful and graduate high school “Next Generation Ready.”



Learners have the opportunity to help shape the movement for personalized learning.

Dr. Cederick Ellis
Superintedent, McComb School District

Q. What has been the most significant shift you’ve seen in the mindsets of your learners, families, and community as a whole? Has everyone bought in? Is the communication continuous between all stakeholders?

A. Because of the promise of this model, the mindset shifts of learners has increased motivation, engagement, curiosity, risk taking, and confidence that they can control their own learning. Additionally, many school district personnel’s mindsets have shifted to trusting that our educational system has the potential of providing globally competitive educational programs and services of the highest quality.

These school district personnel are of the mindset that student-centered teaching and learning will be the catalyst for change that will aid in eliminating an educational system that is no longer being compromised by an agrarian system of public schooling. Of course, this system is no longer applicable for 21st century, digital-native learners. For families, confidence in public education in McComb is being restored.

A key support to the implementation of student-centered teaching and learning is it addresses the curriculum, pedagogy, and delivery systems our strategic plan recommends. This was one of five core recommendations of a 38-member Strategic Planning Working Group. The membership included teacher leaders and school-based administrators; business, religious, and civic leaders; parent and student leaders; and representatives from higher education.

Although the members devoted nearly 400 hours to crafting the future of public education for McComb School District’s children, capturing the spirit and nuance of all the participants remains a challenge. To date, not all stakeholders have bought into student-centered teaching and learning.

We will continue to foster continuous communication among stakeholders through ongoing community conversations and print and social media. The community conversations will always include an opportunity to engage stakeholders regarding their perspectives, concerns, criticisms, and the potential pitfalls they see relating to student-centered teaching and learning. For reflection purposes, recording the community conversations may be optional.

To obtain additional buy-in, we will utilize the voices of passionate, early adopters to garner mainstream support. On a quarterly basis, we allow students and parents to share how student-centered teaching and learning has impacted their learning experience. Quick videos will be created to capture the voices and used in the district’s campaign to widen its reach. Additional videos will be used to produce behind-the-scene peeks of the “real” implementation of student-centered teaching and learning.

Q. What new opportunities have become available to the learners at McComb?

A. Learners have the opportunity to help shape the movement for personalized learning. Visits from school districts, educators, policy makers, and other advocates provide learners with the opportunity to share how learner-centered, student-centered teaching and learning, has transformed their learning experience.

Learners’ voices can be heard globally through the Pioneering publication and case studies conducted highlighting the district’s learning-centered journey.



Learner-centered, student-centered teaching and learning will usher in a new learning culture that engages and empowers all learners.

Dr. Cederick Ellis
Superintendent, McComb School District

Q. What has been your favorite story during your time at McComb? What matters to you about that?

A. I have several favorite stories. My first favorite story is the number of parents who wanted something different for their children, recognized the need for a pedagogical shift that would take into consideration their children’s personalized needs, and had the courage to boldly act. Secondly, the gaze of hope in the students’ eyes regarding personalizing their learning. Thirdly, the self-confidence gained by a male student who had become lost in our traditional educational system, who could not read nor write his name prior to his experience with student-centered teaching and learning.

What matters to me most is the future of our children, specifically the children who attend the McComb School District. My primary concern is for continuous academic growth of all students and their mastery of skills and competencies needed for them to successfully complete their school experience having reached their full potential.

Q. What does the future of McComb look like?

A. The future of the McComb School District is very bright. For too long, our public schools have not been working for many students. This is especially true for our most vulnerable students—those from socio-economically deprived backgrounds. It is, unfortunately, a continuing national trend. Preliminary plans suggest that learner-centered, student-centered teaching and learning will usher in a new learning culture that engages and empowers all learners, 100% of whom are in need of high-quality and equitable educational opportunities. It is our belief that McComb School District has positioned itself to become a leader in innovative and proactive transformation. We are determined not to allow our students to remain a part of local, state, and national damning statistics that have become commonplace in failing schools.

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