By Nancy Flowers
Each morning DeSean Dyson greets every student at The Redeemer’s School with a handshake. He wants them to see him, not to fear him as the head of school, but to know he is there, a constant, abiding presence that represents peace and strength, no matter what things are like at home. Teaching them soft social skills—shaking hands, making eye contact, engaging them in conversation—isn’t part of the curriculum, but Dyson’s interest in these kids goes beyond the classroom. He knows that his calling, and The Redeemer’s School’s calling, is to the whole child, not just to their education.
“I love and value the families who send their kids here,” he says. “We’re in relationship together as part of a Christian community, so I’m going to care about what goes on with them.”
Dyson comes from a family of educators. His parents are both educators, and four of their five children are educators. But DeSean wasn’t planning on a life in education. He played football and was a member of the Attache show choir at Clinton High School. A torn ACL ended his football playing, so when he graduated in 2002 he went to Mississippi Delta Community College on a show choir scholarship. His sights were set on law school. But the Lord had other plans.
“I became a believer my freshman year of college,” Dyson says. “It was a Pauline conversion – I saw my sin as clear as day. In the same moment of being broken, I knew I was saved from that. It is Christ’s work that declares my standing before God.”
In looking for a senior college, he wanted a private college with Christian values. He “fell in love” with Belhaven University and enjoyed his time there. But in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit, he had a moment of moral crisis. He saw black males depicted as “almost animalistic,” and he couldn’t help but wonder if other people saw him in the same way.
“It tore me up,” he says soberly. “If I’m struggling with self-doubts as a 22-year-old honor student, what about these other kids?” He pauses. “And the Lord just yanked my heart to education.”
In a mere three weeks, after much praying and seeking the Lord, Dyson had a job at Clinton High School, his alma mater. He coached and taught U.S. History and American Government. He knew instantly that teaching was his love.
After six years at Clinton High School, he became assistant principal at Carver Middle School in Raymond. It wasn’t long before he received a call from someone encouraging him toward the path to becoming a school superintendent. It was another moment of moral crisis.
“My wife and I were about to go on a trip to look at a job,” he recalls. “I was struggling with it. Was I doing this for economic reasons or was this my calling? I went to my pastor at Redeemer, Mike Campbell, and he told me two important things. First, he said that there’s nothing wrong with being a superintendent if it is kingdom driven.” Dyson pauses and grins. “And then he told me, ‘You know we’re opening a school at Redeemer, and we were hoping you’d think about being a part of it.’”
By that time Dyson had been a member at Redeemer Church for about six years, and served as a deacon. He also served on the long range planning committee that discussed and formed ideas for various projects, including the school. He was well aware that with no funding and no facilities it might be several years before the vision for the school was realized. But again the Lord had other plans.
An unexpected gift designated for the school put things in motion, and in January 2014 Dyson was named as The Redeemer’s School’s first head of school. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he was sure of his calling. Still working at Carver Middle School, Dyson put in long days, giving his best to both schools. And in August 2014, The Redeemer’s School, with its gospel-driven mission, opened its doors to 42 students in K-4, K-5, and first grade.
“I’m an advocate for public schools, but there are things that are eternally important that the public schools can’t sufficiently broach,” Dyson says. “There are identity issues—who we are before God—and sin issues, things that are an important part of life and that should be addressed from 8 a.m.–3 p.m. every day.”
The school’s mission is to children of diverse racial, economic, and ethnic backgrounds in the city of Jackson, and many come from the Broadmoor neighborhood that surrounds Redeemer Church. Around 75% of the students come from economic situations that meet the guidelines of the federal free and reduced lunch program. Most of the parents can pay only $25 per month, which hardly touches the $11,000 per year tuition fees. The school has partners committed to funding education for these children, but more are needed to keep up with the growing interest in enrollment.
The Redeemer’s School is distinct in that it functions on a covenant basis. “Every parent signs a covenant,” says Dyson, “so you have an active component between school and home. If there are issues, parents can come to us. And if we have a parent-teacher conference, we need them here.”
Taking an interest in the whole child means that Dyson and his staff are intentional about helping each child in every area of his life – emotionally, nutritionally, academically, and in family dynamics. They also provide parent resources from financial planning to marriage/family counseling through Reformed Theological Seminary.
“The gospel speaks to every area of the child’s life,” says Dyson. “We know that even though we are with the child for a big chunk of his day, if there is something going on in his life, that is what will impact him most. The gospel is ultimate, so if we see areas where our parents have needs, we are able to help.”
The school is in its second academic year, and has added a second-grade class, growing the enrollment from 42 to 59, with waiting lists in some classes. The long-term goal is to serve children in grades K-4 through 8. Partnerships with other area private and Christian schools have encouraged Dyson in how to communicate to parents the benefit of keeping their kids at Redeemer’s School all the years from K-4 to 8. He and the school’s board of trustees are looking ahead to when these children go to upper school, and they are exploring fundraising models that would support each child throughout his entire school career.
Academics are primary, but Dyson is looking at the bigger picture. “There is a whole student there, not just his education,” he says, “which is why we teach art, music, and dance. We’re concerned with his reading, of course, but we’re also concerned with his emotional stability, how he handles issues and that he is able to process disappointment.”
When Dyson thinks about the future of his students, he thinks about the boys in particular. His desire is to see his boys with families – wives and kids – and as leaders in the community, men who are living in a way that exudes the gospel.
“Every day these girls and boys are hearing the gospel,” he says. “I look forward to seeing how it impacts their lives, careers, and relationships ten or fifteen years up the road. My hope is that we can see our students become indigenous leaders and people with a passion for the Lord.”
The Redeemer’s Hands is a resource auxiliary group for The Redeemer’s School, and welcomes anyone who is interested in supporting the school. Please contact the school office at 601.203.2106 for more information or visit www.facebook.com/TheRedeemersSchool.
Nancy Flowers teaches 6th grade at Jackson Prep, and teaches the Bible at her church, Trinity Presbyterian. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.