When Rhonda Guice first became principal of Lake Cormorant Middle School in 2006 and then Lake Cormorant High School in 2010, she did not have to deal with how a predecessor did things in her job before she arrived. There wasn’t someone before her to deal with. It was her way and only her way.
Now, while Guice retired from her 29-year education career last June, she will always have a presence at the high school she helped start on Star Landing Road in the western reaches of DeSoto County. Current principal Conell Phillips Jr. and the DeSoto County School District has made sure of that.
In the front commons area above the main office door has been hung a portrait of Guice as the first of the school’s “Head Gators.” Additionally, Phillips received school board approval last month to name the street at the front of the school on campus in her honor.
From now on, teachers and staff, students, parents and visitors will be reaching the front parking lot on Rhonda Guice Way. It will truly be her way.
“It’s quite an honor,” Guice said Tuesday at the street sign unveiling event. “It’s an honor beyond anything I could imagine. It’s strange to drink this all in because I don’t believe that in all of my years it was all about me. It was about the kids and the teachers and having the best schools we could possibly have.”
Guice, as principal, oversaw the start of two schools in the Lake Cormorant zone when the district, under former Supt. Milton Kuykendall, decided growth in the western part of the county district demanded campuses of their own.
Lake Cormorant became a reality with students from the western part of the Horn Lake zone, along with some students who had attended Southaven and some from Hernando.
Guice recalls the initial meeting with parents did not go well.
“The first meeting that we ever had when they announced they were going to build the school was a horrible meeting,” Guice said. “People didn’t want it, they didn’t like it. They were being pulled away from three high schools that had been the cornerstones of the DeSoto County School District for years. But they all came together and I think now they would not want to be a part of something else.”
Current Supt. Cory Uselton, who worked with Guice at Horn Lake High School before her move to Lake Cormorant, said the 2009 DCS Administrator of the Year deserves the legacy she will have with Tuesday’s accolades.
“Rhonda Guice has a lasting impression on this high school and our entire DeSoto County School District,” Uselton said. “This is a great honor and very deserving for her. She has impacted the lives of countless numbers of students, teachers and administrators.”
Phillips wrote the school board about the street name change in early October, an action the board approved less than two weeks later.
“It’s kind of like a NFL player who gets inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot,” Uselton said. “It’s one of those situations that when we heard that Mr. Phillips was wanting to do something in her honor, myself and all five of our board members were absolutely in favor of it.”
“These schools are what they are today because of her,” Phillips said. “I went to Supt. Uselton and to the board for them to approve this to happen. Once that happened, we got the ball rolling and got everything together with her picture and the street being named after her.”
Guice is a native of Booneville who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, and a master’s degree in administration and leadership from Ole Miss. She was a biology instructor, and coached girls’ basketball, volleyball and softball, before taking on the role of assistant principal at Horn Lake High School.
Guice also became the first female athletic director for a Class 5A school in DeSoto County and at the time was one of the first such athletic directors in Mississippi.
As a coach, Guice won state championships in girls’ basketball and in volleyball at Horn Lake and was a state Coach of the Year in 1995 and again in 1999.
“I always tried to make sure my school, my students and my teachers all felt like they was a part of a family,” Guice said. “School was about the students and I was there to support the teachers and make sure the students had what they needed. When you made that package and it’s about those kids, they grabbed a hold of it and they bought into it.”
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.