A year ago, The Dozier School for Boys in Marianna was facing challenges from all sides. The school is a residency
program which accepts high risk youth sent there by courts statewide. While enrolled they receive formal schooling
and trade instruction, along with healthcare and mental health services.
Last year there were abuse allegations made by former inmates at the school. The State Attorney dropped the case,
citing a lack of evidence. But the school had also failed a recent performance evaluation, and gone through several
superintendents in a few short years.
Then Michael Cantrell took the job.
“I thought it would be a good challenge,” Cantrell said of his choice to come to Marianna.
“And a good opportunity to build something very special.”
Cantrell was given six months to pass the failed performance exam, and instead the school passed it in 90 days.
Cantrell made several staff shifts, and tightened up security at the school. He also made accountability a focus of all
“We bring our supervisors in and talk to them about shortcomings that were noticed,”
“Then we talk about how we can improve and help them get better—because that’s what it’s really about.”
Internally, the school is now known as the North Florida Youth Development Center. Cantrell said it would be a good
time to change the name as a representation of the school’s new direction. But the legislature will have to approve
the change to make it official.
Cantrell had recently considered taking a different position and leaving Dozier, but he’s now decided to stay.
For now, he said his focus is on improving the school. He said it takes between 18-32 months to see a true
turnaround, but he’s confident in where he is after 14 months.
“It’s a lot like turning a ship around in a creek,” Cantrell said.
“You can’t just do it quickly.”
Dozier School Seeing a Turnaround
02/24/11 - 06:36 PM
By Mark McAfee