Things such as letting students cut his hair after South's victory get students more comfortable with Dawson, Mahmood said.
Dawson is a solid 6-foot-7. He played center, alongside future NBA players Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Williams, David Wingate and the late Reggie Lewis, for the 1983 national championship Dunbar High School basketball team. The Baltimore team went undefeated that season.
He also played for the University of Miami and saw the impact after the school's football team won the national championship. The university raised its entry standards — admitting higher-performing academic students — and attracted more research investment, Dawson said.
Dawson said he's hoping the enthusiasm in the South High community following the Rebels' victory will encourage more community members to volunteer at the high school.
He also is hoping some of the students who live in the South High district, but go to North High, will want to return to their home district school.
After graduation, Dawson said he discovered he had a passion for teaching, but wanted to become a principal so he could "have an impact on an entire school and community."
Before coming to Washington County, Dawson's last principalship was at Baltimore City College, a magnet high school.
He was principal there for five years, until the start of the 2010-11 school year. Dawson said he asked to be reassigned to a facilities management job so would have more time to complete his doctoral dissertation.
According to stories in The (Baltimore) Sun from August 2010, Dawson stepped down at a time when the school had experienced declines in SAT scores over the previous three years and a drop in the number of students taking International Baccalaureate exams.
As for the SAT scores, Dawson said the previous district administration would transfer failing students out of Baltimore City College and replace them with higher performing students so the school could maintain its academic standards.
After Baltimore schools Chief Executive Officer Andres Alonso arrived, that policy changed and magnet schools kept their freshmen through graduation, Dawson said. That led to a decline in the average SAT scores, Dawson said.
City College had freshman who were reading at between a fourth- and sixth-grade level, Dawson said.
To help the younger students, Dawson said, he instituted a middle years program — an International Baccalaureate Organization program — to help freshmen and sophomores. He expected that program to help the Class of 2011 achieve academic gains, Dawson said.
According to a profile of City College at Baltimore City Schools' website, the average SAT score for seniors in 2011 improved to 1,360 compared with 1,314 in 2010.
Dawson said he worked to help younger students bridge their academic gap. He had English teachers, who are more literature teachers than reading teachers at that level, and all other teachers teach literacy.
During his last summer with City College, he said he started a mandatory boot camp for low-performing students to help them with SATs and AP classes. He also said he had all students write essays for their midterm exams, including for physical education.
Dawson said he might incorporate some of those programs at South.