Catawba Ridge High School. Source: WBTV

Catawba Ridge High School, the newest high school in Fort Mill, has been through a lot ever since its grand opening in the fall of 2019.

This includes the COVID-19 pandemic in its first year of existence to school achievements such as the establishment of a Navy National Defense Cadet Corp, a fourth place finish by the marching band in their state championship, and recently, the Copperheads football team reaching the Upper State Championship in its second year of varsity play.

Now the Copperheads have their second principal in charge shortly after its one year anniversary.

Following former principal Dee Christopher’s promotion as Superintendent of Anderson County School District Four (SC), Darren Wilson took over the helm as principal in October of this year. After his promotion at the school, Wilson spoke to the Fort Mill Sun to discuss his background in education, his new job as principal, and his goals for the school.

Catawba Ridge High School Principal Darren Wilson. Source: Fort Mill School District

Question: Prior to your promotion as principal at Catawba Ridge High School, what made you decide to work in the field of education and did you have a job in schools as a coach, teacher, or something else?

“I didn’t start off in education. I earned a business degree and worked for three years before entering education. I was actually lured in by Coach Steve Boyd, who talked me into coaching at Fort Mill High School. From there I realized how much I loved working with young people and pursued my teaching degree from Winthrop University.”

Question: What made you decide to work in the field of education? Was it solely based on impacting kids’ lives, teaching something you’re passionate about, or another reason?

“I began coaching and realized that I have a passion for impacting the lives of young people.”

Question: In regards to education, does it run down your family line or were you the first in your family to go down the path you’re currently on?

“I was the first to enter the field of education in my family. My younger sister also entered the education field and works as a teacher in York, SC.”

Question: What has your time in the Fort Mill School District looked like? What schools have you worked at and what has your role been in those schools?

“I began my career in education at Fort Mill Middle School in 1995 as an ISS supervisor. In 1997, I moved to Fort Mill High School where I taught business classes until 2007. During this time I coached multiple sports serving as both an assistant and as a head coach.”

Question: What was the main reason you decided to leap into an administrator role during your time in education?

“I wanted to expand my ability to influence the lives of young adults.”

Question: What attracted you to Catawba Ridge High School as an administrator role?

“My children will attend Catawba Ridge High School and I was also attracted to Catawba Ridge because of the opportunity to build the culture of the school from the ground up.”

Question: When Dee Christopher announced he was taking a superintendent role in Anderson County, why did you want to take the job as principal and what was the process of getting the job like?

“Though I have been in administration for fourteen years, I have not applied for many opportunities as a principal. I came to Catawba Ridge High School to be a part of something new and fresh, and I wanted to make sure that the culture continued on the path that we have established. Applicants were asked to present a transition plan as the new principal of Catawba Ridge High School. Mine was simple. I had been at Catawba Ridge High School since it opened, so I didn’t view my plan as a transition, but rather as a continuation of what we had started.”

Question: What is the most exciting part about your promotion and what is the most challenging part about it?

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“The most exciting part would have to be the support I have received from our faculty and staff. They have been amazing. The most challenging would probably have been trying to juggle the old responsibilities of the assistant principal role until it was filled, while accepting the new role of Principal.”

Question: As in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, how hard has it been on the school and you personally?

“It has been a challenge, just as it has been a challenge for our nation and community. It is a challenging time for everyone, but with the support of parents, students, and the district, I have no doubt we will make it through.”

Question: What steps has the school and the school district taken to prevent the number of cases from rising on campus?

“The district is constantly monitoring the situation. We have protocols in place to help ensure a safe environment for our students, teachers, and staff.”

Question: How has the kids responded to the COVID-19 protocols (masks, social distancing) that your school and the school district are taking and have there been any issues regarding it?

“I would have to say that I have been impressed with the response from our students as a whole. They have embraced the protocols that we have put in place to help us stay safe and in school. We have not seen community spread in our schools which shows the positive response from our students.”

Question: Speaking of the kids, since half are split into A and B days, how have they also responded to that aspect of the new normal?

“Students have responded well to the A/B day schedule.”

Question: In terms of COVID-19 cases, how has the school handled it so far and what areas do you need to see improvement in?

“Our school has handled the situation well and taken steps to create a process in which the district office coordinates with the schools to identify, contact trace, and notify once we learn of a positive case.”

Question: What is your message to parents out there who are still nervous about the pandemic in a school sitting?

“I have three children of my own that attend school in the district and I would say that the district has taken every precaution available to keep both students and staff safe.”

Question: In terms of the 2020-2021 school year, how has it been so far, especially with the Copperheads football team reaching the Upper State Championship game?

“Considering the challenges of the COVID-19 year, it has been an amazing fall semester for our school. We have experienced a great deal of success both in the classroom and on the athletic fields. We are extremely proud of their accomplishments. All of the fall sports finished in the top two in their respective regions and qualified for State Competition.”

Question: Lastly, what is your vision for the school moving forward in the next decade?

“To continue to build a positive school culture that is based in relationships, where students can unleash their talents.”

Mitchell Mercer has lived in Fort Mill since 2003 and graduated from Nation Ford High School in 2019. He currently attends Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC and is majoring in English-Communications....