Audra’s Interview with Coach Tom Bass, Dunwoody High School Principal

Coach Bass on the Day of our interview which happened to be PINK OUT day at DHS

by Audra H. Anders for The Aha! Connection

Coach Bass and I go way back to around 2004.  I can’t remember whether I first met him at the Murphey Candler Tom Bass Camp or at Indoor Winter Baseball at DHS when my oldest was six years old.  So, the first thing I asked Tom when we sat down to chat for this interview was….”What are people supposed to call you.  Mr. Bass?  Coach Bass?  Or what?!”

He chuckled and indicated this was not the first time someone asked him this question.  He’ll answer to both he said…but prefers Coach Bass.  Being a coach is wrapped up in his DNA.   He thrives upon spirited activities, preparing, teaching, goal setting, team building, etc.  Coaching applies to all those things.  Basically, he’s now the Head Coach of Dunwoody High School!

After graduating high school in Florida, Tom played baseball as a left-handed pitcher for the Georgetown University Hoyas.  He graduated in 1983 and was inducted into the Georgetown Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.  His first teaching job was at Miramar High School in Broward County, Florida where he taught English and eventually became the Head Baseball Coach.  He led the Miramar Patriots Baseball Team to Runner Up in the State Championships which was the furthest they had achieved at the time.  He left Miramar in 1994 and headed to Dunwoody High School where he worked as a coach, teacher, and assistant principal from 1994 to 2012.  Our DHS Wildcats baseball team won the 2007 State Championship under his command as Head Coach at DHS….the first and so far, last in school history.  He’s also already been inducted into the Dunwoody High School Hall of Fame!  I remember Tom being a candidate for the DHS Principal job in 2012 but Noel Maloof (who had previous experience as a Principal) was selected instead.

Coach Bass has spent the past nine years at Forsyth County’s Lambert High School as a coach and assistant principal.  He helped lead the Lambert Longhorns Baseball team to both the State and National Championship in 2014!   He credits Lambert’s current principal Gary Davison for mentoring him to become a Principal.  According to Bass, Davison has grown 20+ Principals under his leadership.  Apparently, he has a style of loyalty and trust…and is NOT a micromanager.  Bass plans to emulate Davison’s style.

Bass’ move to Lambert was a sweet deal for his three daughters.  All three were able to attend high school WITH their fun-loving dad.  His oldest graduated UGA last year and is now happily using her fashion design degree in NYC.  His middle child is studying at Kennesaw State and his baby girl is a junior at Lambert.  In fact, when the DHS Principal job became available, his youngest daughter was one of the first people with whom he discussed the opportunity.  I’m sure she misses him but she gave him the thumbs up to return because she had heard him say while at Lambert that there would only be one school he would leave for….Dunwoody.

I asked a few friends to submit questions for Coach Bass and I came up with a few on my own.  Following is the Q & A from our conversation:

AHA:  What did you miss the most about DHS?

TB:  Steve Fortenberry of course.  Plus, Wildcat Pride and the Dunwoody Vibe.

AHA:  Can we expect some new Fortenberry/Bass videos and what are some other fun things we can look forward to?

TB:  As Principal, the videos are likely not to be as zany as Lambert Hype but expect videos.  We have big plans for DHS’ 50th anniversary next year.  We are so excited about the new turfed field.  I’ve also challenged the staff to a steak or lobster dinner if they can “out spirit” me this year!

AHA:  What do middle school parents need to know to be working on NOW to help their kids be prepared for the transition to high school?

TB:  Study Skills.  Budgeting Time.  As a 9th grader they will be welcomed!  Freshmen grades are just as important (if not more) than senior grades.  The best way to keep them focused is to get involved:  join a club, play a sport, be a part of an academic team, play in the band, etc.  It’s critical to PLUG IN to experience Wildcat Pride.

AHA:  There’s been talk at Peachtree Middle of trying to create a sense of community in our school cluster.  Since all roads lead to DHS….what do you feel DHS can do/is planning to do to work towards this plan?

TB:  I have been meeting extensively with Ms. Perez and the principals of the elementary schools in our cluster.  Our goal is to have a “United Cluster Plan”.  Expect a shirt indicating “all paths lead to DHS” which will include logos of all our feeder schools.  We are also planning a festival inviting all the kids from our feeder schools to the new field!

AHA:  I have concerns about sending my kids due to the overcrowding and the old facilities.  What are the plans to address this?

TB:  We have the largest number of students in a DeKalb County high school (approximately 2,130).  Overcrowding is just a number.  Our class sizes are reasonable and we work to keep them low.  We do have plenty of learning cottages but with no SPLOST money we can’t make the building any bigger.  All DHS students were given the choice to have virtual school and only about 30 DHS students chose this option.

AHA:  We all know there has been a learning loss from COVID.  How is DHS addressing it and are the kids coming to DHS from our cluster prepared and ready for high school?

TB:  I agree there have been learning losses due to COVID.  There is also a lack of social awareness especially for 9th graders after COVID.  Only the current senior class has ever actually been in the building.  The staff and administration are showing grace socially and academically.  

AHA:  Aside from COVID, what has been your biggest challenge so far at DHS?

TB:  Rebuilding the culture, climate, and relationships.  Maintenance of a 50-year-old building.

AHA: Some parents worry about the safety and security of the students in an overcrowded school.  How are the students able to socially distance safely when the cafeteria is against max capacity fire safety restrictions?

TB:  We have four lunch waves to spread out the crowds.  We’ve added tables outside the media center and have two huge picnic areas.  We also have cameras throughout the building and outside.  We have a School Resource Officer, and 3 Campus Security Guards.  We prioritize 1-safety, 2-academics, 3-climate.

AHA:  Apart from overcrowding, what are the other challenges facing DHS, and how can the community at large pitch in to help solve them?

TB:  We need to continue to unify all students from diverse backgrounds.  It is important for members of the community to demonstrate willingness to be involved in projects at the school, to provide ideas for fundraising and to volunteer.  I hope the Game On! Capital Campaign will continue therefore helping us gain concessions and bathrooms for our outdoor facilities.

AHA:  You seem so full of spirit and the community is thriving off your energy!  What would you like middle school parents to know about DHS under your leadership?

TB: We will continue to create opportunities to get students plugged-in through a wide variety of opportunities.  We are planning a “Wildcat Focus 40” creating a process for students to get tutoring, academic counseling, and make-up work during the school day rather than only before or after school.

AHA:  Baseball.  Talk to me about the future of the baseball program.  Can/will you be involved?

TB:   I can’t coach the team and be Principal.  I’ve declared this school year as “the year of observation”.  The observation period  is for academics, athletics, and other personnel.  I want all programs to be successful and will strive to make it happen.  I’ve told the coaches we need a strength and conditioning coach for all sports.

Now for some fun questions.

AHA:  Do you play fantasy football, if so, what is the name of your team and how are they doing?

TB:  No.  I’d play if you could stick with one team.  I don’t have time for trades.  I prefer watching real, live sports.

AHA:  What can you cook to perfection and are you willing to share the recipe?

TB:  I’m known for being a fast-food junkie.  I like 3 frosted chocolate donuts and a Diet Coke or a quarter pounder with cheese.  Don’t eat like Tom! 

AHA:  If you won the lottery and decided to give up your job, what would you do instead?

TB:  I’d like to be philanthropic to people I know.  I’d still coach athletics and watch a lot of movies.

AHA:  What’s your favorite movie?

TB:  I have an extensive movie rating system, but I’d say The Shawshank Redemption.

AHA:  Are there any embarrassing teaching moments you are willing to share?

TB:  One year while teaching at DHS, I had my students make a time capsule.  They each brought in an item about what the year meant to them and some predictions for the end of the school year.  We secretly buried the time capsule behind the left field fence of the baseball field.   At the end of the year when we went to dig it up, we couldn’t find it.  We dug several holes before giving up.  I still get texts from students in the class joking about how we never found it.

AHA:   In which DHS teacher’s class would you like to enroll?

TB:  Coach Gay’s Oceanography class

AHA:  What song to you know all the lyrics to?

TB:  My karaoke song is definitely T.N.T. by AC/DC.

AHA:  I know you were a college pitcher and pitchers aren’t known for their hitting.  Have you ever hit a home run?

TB:  I hit a home run when I came back to be the Principal of Dunwoody!  (And yes, I’ve hit a home run before.)

AHA:  What do you want me to convey to those reading this article?

TB:  DHS is safe.  My goal is for every kid who graduates to leave with the true “Dunwoody Experience”.  I want for them:  memories of a lifetime, friendships, much knowledge learned, activities participated in, and a special place in their heart for their favorite Dunwoody Principal.

It was my pleasure to catch up with Coach Bass.  I personally think he is exactly the person our community needs for the job.  I’m a Wildcat Mom twice over and full of Wildcat Pride.  I can’t wait to see how fast the Wildcat Pride spreads with Tom at the helm. ~Audra

Here’s what a few others said when I asked them about Bass’ return to Dunwoody High:

Andy Jameson, Asst. Principal, Instruction at DHS

We are very excited to have Coach Bass back at Dunwoody High School as our principal.  I have known Tom for over twenty years, as he was a well-respected teacher at DHS when I started here as a paraprofessional in the late 1990’s.  He contributed so much to the spirit and culture of Dunwoody High School as a teacher, Head Baseball Coach (winning the 2007 Class AAA State Championship), and assistant principal, and there is no better person to lead us in restoring the spirit and traditions of DHS after our students and teachers have been through so much with the pandemic.  In addition to his focus on school spirit, Coach Bass has a lot of sound instructional plans to move our school forward to new levels academically as well.

Ana Bilbao-Granadillo, DHS Spanish Teacher, Senior Class Sponsor

First, I’m very lucky to say that I’ve know him since I was 14. I say this because I admire how true he is to who he is. He loves to have fun and make sure that everyone around him is also having fun. He can be serious when appropriate but always cares about everyone around him. He just wants the best for everyone…. And that’s pretty amazing!

Annie Quinn, DHS Senior and SGA President

Coach Bass is not afraid to show that having school spirit is cool, whether that is through dressing up for spirit days, teaching the Wildcat Pride cheer, or making a boomerang with students!  He treats students as partners in building a school community and truly cares about our input. 

Steve Fortenberry, DHS Academy of Finance Teacher

There could not have been a more perfect candidate to take over the Principal’s job than Tom Bass. There is no one who is more passionate about what he does and loves and watches out for the students.  After being out of the building for over a year, we needed this passion and energy leading from the top and the difference that he has made is remarkable.  He gets it, and is all about the Dunwoody experience.  This place is special, the community is special and these students are special.  The school is so excited about what is ahead for this place and we know we have a leader who is all about DHS, the feeder schools and the Dunwoody community.  Parents of middle and elementary schoolers should be very excited about being a part of this place!