When Pascagoula High School Principal Dr. Caterria Payton was a child, she discovered who she wanted to grow up and be, in the place that made her feel normal, safe, and secure — her school.
Dr. Payton grew up in one of the worst housing projects in New Orleans and she used her school days as an escape.
“If it wasn’t for my teachers and principals, there would not be a Dr. Payton today,” she said. “Without a doubt, I’m where I am today because of my high school principal and my high school teachers.”
Those loyal educators gave her the direction she needed to get out of the environment she was in by way of joining the military.
“I joined the reserves, and I was able to see what the rest of the world looked like,” she said, adding she always knew she’d pay it forward by someday becoming an educator.
And now, Dr. Payton has been tapped as the 2023 Mississippi Administrator of the Year. She was also named the school district’s top administrator in November.
“It was a shock because there were so many great people in the running,” she said. “I’m very overwhelmed yet humbled. I accept the award on behalf of the many teachers, administrators, and other school staff who have accompanied me on the journey to creating optimal learning environments for students.”
She’s done a little of everything in her 23 years as an educator. She was an assistant teacher and then a teacher before she landed on the administration side serving as lead teacher and then principal. Most recently, Dr. Payton was selected as assistant superintendent over secondary schools in the Pascagoula-Gautier School District. She’s excited to begin her new post at the start of the next school year.
“I eat, sleep, and breathe public education,” she said, adding being a teacher’s kid was something her three children had to endure during their childhood.
“As teacher kids, they were in school all summer,” she said. “They were helping get classrooms together. Helping teachers with their technologies. They lived that teacher kid life.”
Her children are now adults, and they are beyond excited and incredibly proud of their mom. They also think it’s humorous that the teacher-kid-life mentality is beginning to trickle downward. Of her four grandchildren, one is in pre-kindergarten and already has people saying, “I know who your grandmother is,” she said laughing. “It’s really a job that never ends.”
And she has former students who seek her out for advice.
“I constantly get emails or text messages wanting advice or support,” she said. “And I love it. This is what I do. Just because they graduate, my job really doesn’t stop. My job does not end with graduation and whether or not they go into education they can still reach out to me and they know that. They are always going to be one of my kids.”
When she has former students wanting advice about becoming a teacher, she tells them to be sure they can teach with conviction.
“It’s going to be difficult at times but just as difficult as it is, it’s twice as rewarding,” she said. “It’s not something that you will ever regret.”
Photos are courtesy of Dr. Caterria Payton and the Pascagoula-Gautier School District.