Jim McKenzie, the headmaster at the Rock School, uses his love for teaching and leadership to improve the education, skills and character of his students.
McKenzie, who was born into a family of educators, knew he wanted to teach since he was in high school. However, his friends encouraged him to go into something with better pay where he could apply his skills of math and science. He decided to pursue electrical and computer engineering at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.
While at college, he volunteered at an elementary school across the street where he discovered with certainty that he was meant to be an educator, not an engineer. He withdrew from Florida Tech and finished his associate’s degree at Central Florida Community College in Ocala. He then became an elementary education major at the University of Florida and finished with a master’s degree in instruction and curriculum.
Through an internship at Duval Elementary, he accepted his first position teaching fifth grade and played a part in bringing a low-performing and low-income school out of the dark. When he started, Duval had the lowest writing scores in Alachua County and was marked as a failing school. After 3 years of his school board working to recruit better teachers and implement good values, their students achieved some of the highest test scores in Florida.
“It really was just this amazing experience to see what can happen when a school community really comes together and rallies around school improvement, that it’s possible in spite of all the obstacles.”
In 1999, he started his journey at The Rock School. He taught high school English for three years, served as an assistant principal for 10 years and is now in his ninth year as headmaster.
“One of the things I like about private school is there’s a sense of autonomy. We get to decide what kind of school we want to be and how we’re gonna do it and change can happen at whatever speed we say, so there’s not some outside entity telling us what we have to do and how we have to do it.”
At the Rock, they believe in helping students have an openness for learning so they have grit, resilience, humility, self-control, emotional regularity and creativity. Students shouldn’t fear failure but instead, seek to learn from their mistakes rather than feeling forced to memorize vast amounts of information. The ultimate way to success is teaching students how to be conscientious and creative.
“What prepares students for success in college and career is more of their character and the skills that they develop and less about the content knowledge or what we would call ‘good academics.’”
The Rock School opened its doors for the first time since March on August 12th. They are providing a clean space, abiding by a cohort model and requiring face coverings for all faculty and students.
“What we know is that if teachers wear a mask and students wear a mask, transmission risk is really, really, really low so we feel like we have a plan that safeguards kids but still provides them an enriching educational experience.”
Listen to the 114th episode of WHOA GNV podcast to hear more about Jim McKenzie’s journey to becoming an educator and how the Rock School is providing an educational experience to students in the midst of a pandemic.