The Charleston County School District hired Henry Darby as principal of North Charleston High School Monday after bringing him on for a brief stint as interim principal.
Born and raised in the nearby Liberty Hill neighborhood, Darby has a long history in the community and said he plans to never leave.
In addition to serving on Charleston County Council, he founded the Citizens Patrol Against Drugs in the 1980s to combat the scourge of drug dealing in his neighborhood. More recently, he's been going door-to-door in Dorchester-Waylyn with the United Black Men of Charleston County seeking solutions to gun violence.
Arriving at the high school in February, Darby said the first two challenges he confronted were student discipline and low teacher morale. The discipline issue came into the spotlight in February when video footage surfaced of North Charleston High students cursing at police after getting in a fight on a school bus.
"That's being taken care of," Darby said. "Our kids are not going around cursing teachers out like that any longer. Absolutely not, sir. Absolutely not."
Darby's predecessor in the principal's office, Bob Grimm, worked to decrease student suspensions, reasoning that students were losing ground and getting into more trouble when they missed class. Darby said he agrees, up to a point.
"I have a saying that I can have a school without students. But I cannot have a school without teachers," Darby said. "My teachers must be respected."
Darby previously worked as a teacher, coordinator and administrative assistant at Morningside Middle and Burke High, starting in 1980 when he left a job at DuPont to pursue a career in education. He spent the past decade as an assistant principal at Fort Dorchester High School in Dorchester District 2.
Coming to the smaller North Charleston High, Darby said he noticed some things were missing. He said he wants to offer more electives, including a theater program, and he wants to set aside time in the school schedule for student clubs.
Academically, Darby said he wants to offer more Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment classes for college credit. In the long run, he wants to bring the rigorous International Baccalaureate program to the school. It would be the second high school-level IB program in the county, after James Island Charter High.
Kim Wilson, executive director of Charleston County's high schools, said in February that he hoped Darby would bring consistency back to the school. Grimm had taken the reins in 2011 as North Charleston's eighth principal in 11 years, and he departed abruptly at the start of this school year citing family health matters. He has since taken a job as a high school principal in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Darby said he leaped at the opportunity to work in his old community. Both his parents died while he was young, and he said his church and neighbors in Liberty Hill were instrumental in raising him. Now he leads a school with a lot of familiar faces.
"I have kids whose parents I taught," Darby said. "I'm getting lots of grandparent support as well as parent support because I taught their children."