The Beaufort County Board of Education recently approved a veteran principal to take over as the next leader of Bluffton High School.
Denise Garison, a 30-year educator, will replace current principal Mark Dievendorf when he retires on June 30.
Garison’s previous school, Jack Britt High in Fayetteville, N.C., ranked first or second among North Carolina’s 2,400-plus schools each of the past three years for overall student academic growth. The school’s most recent on-time graduation rate was 94 percent. Jack Britt is Cumberland County’s largest high school, with an enrollment of nearly 2,000 students.
“Ms. Garison’s track record is strong, and we’re fortunate to have her on our team,” said Superintendent Jeff Moss. “Everyone in the Bluffton community — students, parents, teachers and community members — will see very quickly why she’s an excellent choice.”
A sought-after speaker, panelist and presenter at regional and national professional conferences, Garison has also been interviewed by national network anchors Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw. The Brokaw interview was connected with NBC’s recognition of Jack Britt High’s success in reducing achievement gaps between minority and non-minority students.
Garison said that her career has benefitted from working with excellent leaders who served as role models. And working with high schoolers, she said, has always held a special appeal.
“I love leading and interacting with high school kids,” Garison said, “whether it’s academics or art or athletics or JROTC.
A high school is an exciting place to come to work every day, and our challenge at Bluffton High will be to take an already strong school to even higher levels of achievement.”
U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Bluffton High as South Carolina’s No. 7 high school, and The Washington Post ranked the school No. 12 in the state.
Beaufort County’s connections to the military will feel familiar to Garison, who grew up in a military family. She said that half of the students at her previous high school, Jack Britt, came from military families stationed at Fort Bragg.
Garison began her career in 1986, teaching Algebra 1, Geometry and Pre-Algebra at the middle school and later at the high school level in Cumberland County. She also taught those subjects — and designed the course curricula — for the school district’s online academy. She was an assistant principal at Jack Britt High for seven years before being named principal in 2009.
Garison graduated from Fayetteville State University and also earned a pair of master’s degrees, one from Fayetteville State and the other from East Carolina University.
She has two daughters at East Carolina, with the oldest pursuing a teaching career when she graduates next year.
During the search process for Bluffton High’s new principal, all applications were screened to make certain that candidates met the basic qualifications. A screening team reviewed the remaining applications in depth and recommended candidates for personal interviews.
Next, an eight-member interview committee met with seven recommended candidates. The interview committee comprised two Bluffton High teachers, a Bluffton High student, a Bluffton High parent, district Chief Instructional Services Officer Dereck Rhoads, district Director of Innovation Bonnie Almond, district Chief Administrative Services and Human Resources Officer Alice Walton, and Superintendent Jeff Moss.
After each interview, committee members rated the candidate and those ratings were submitted to the superintendent. After the selected candidate’s personal references were called and verified, a recommendation was made to the Board of Education.