Savannah Chatham Co. public school principal discusses the importance of having Black educators in classrooms

Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 4:55 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - “Having a Black educator helps you know where you come from.”

Derrick Butler has been empowering Savannah Chatham public school students for more than 15 years.

“You know I’m going to check in on you.”

As the current principal of Islands High School, he says his own childhood principal inspired him to be here today.

“Just seeing him interact and engage and love on kids and support staff was something that I always remembered,” said Principal Butler.

Those memories remind him how important it is for young Black students to have role models that look like them.

“That may talk like them, that may walk like them, may have similar experiences as them.”

Butler taught for over nine years and became the first Black principal in Windsor Forest High school’s history in 2014.

And mental health experts say having Black educators like Mr. Butler walking these hallways in schools is vital.

“Because it just gives that gleam of this is where we’re from, this is what’s possible and we can continue to help make those changes and educate our young people,” said Clayton Andrews, a licensed professional counselor.

Andrews and Butler agree more Black educators are needed but Butler says keeping teachers in the field is the challenge right now. He wants to encourage those teachers facing burnout to remember why they do their work.

“I think it’s important they remember their why but they also remember to refuel and that they prioritize themselves.”

Butler says it’s worth staying in the field as some of his most memorable interactions come from being a listening ear to students no matter their race.

“Having that moment to connect and encourage them, motivate them and in some ways equipped them with the tools that they need to get over that hump, those are the moments.”

He says every student he’s had has made just as much of an impact on him, that he’s had on them.

“I’m always thinking about you.”