Dawson said he wanted to work at a school where he could improve curriculum and instruction rather than having to break up fights and trying to find out who lit a fire in the bathroom or sprayed graffiti on school property.
With 1,269 students as of Sept. 30, South High is the school system's largest school, but it is the smallest school Dawson has ever led.
Dawson said he visits classrooms two or three days a week.
"It gives me an opportunity to inspect what I expect," a philosophy Dawson said he adopted from watching the Army Corps of Engineers fix a school roof after Hurricane Andrew in Florida.
"I want every child to see me. I want every teacher to see me. Are kids ready to learn? Are kids engaged?" Dawson said.
He also checks the condition of the classrooms. If he sees a light bulb out or a cracked window, Dawson said he notifies maintenance through a portable radio to get it fixed.
His visits create an "environment of accountability," Dawson said.
When he walks into a classroom to find a student with his or her head on the desk, and the teacher hasn't noticed yet, that student sits up, Dawson said.
Dawson said he would like to see an International Baccalaureate program offered at South High so students have more options. AP and IB programs differ in their teaching and learning styles, he said.
He is among a group of school system officials exploring the idea of changing the course schedule. With South High on a semester schedule, a student could take an AP course in the fall and not take the AP test for college credit until the end of the spring semester. Some students don't even take the AP test, he said.
If AP courses were yearlong, the material would be fresh at test time, giving students a better chance to succeed in earning college credit, he said.
Dawson said he sees his role as empowering teachers and making sure they are in a position to be successful with the students.
"I've walked into a great situation here," Dawson said.