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Laser tag advocate, magician, teen empathizer

Meet Your Administrator: Derek Dillon

RockfordDerek Dillon is the new assistant principal at the Rockford Freshman Center. SNN gets to know him in this edition of Meet Your Administrators.


  • Bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Grand Valley State University
  • Master’s degree in English language learning from Aquinas
  • Master’s degree in educational leadership from GVSU

Other positions you have held in education: Dillon started in education at GRPS’ Harrison Park Elementary, where he taught second grade, third grade, fourth grade and middle-school math before becoming the school improvement facilitator there. He then moved to Fruitport Public Schools, where he was a middle-school assistant principal. 

How about jobs outside education? Dillon paid his dues in the service industry, working as a server at Mongolian BBQ and TGI Friday’s to help pay for college and living expenses. 

Family life: Dillon and his wife, who runs the ELL program in Fruitport, have four children: an 11-year-old son, 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old twin daughters. “They keep us busy and they’re lots of fun,” he said. “We go camping all the time — all summer long, we’re out and about to take advantage of the weather, the beach and the woods.” 

The Dillon family on vacation in the Upper Peninsula (courtesy)

Hobbies/interests/unique talents: “I probably play more laser tag than anyone you’ve ever met, which is kind of weird, but I’m kind of a nerd,” Dillon said. “I play all the time on weekends with my family.”

But laser tag isn’t just a family thing for him; he’s passionate about what the sport can mean for kids at his schools. It all started when he noticed a group of kids in Fruitport who weren’t very involved at school: “I would go talk to them, see what they’re interested in, and then I was able to raise some money to form a (laser tag) group out there. Eventually we started a league. For the kids that don’t make the basketball team or they don’t like football, it got them to be active outside and to make new friends. And it was very successful. So I’m trying to start something similar here (in Rockford); I need to gauge interest and I need to raise money. The ultimate goal would be some sort of league where I can convince other schools to purchase (equipment) too, and we can play against them.”

Dillon also prides himself on being a “pretty good” magician and has been known to do some card tricks for students in the past: “A late-night (magic kit) infomercial when I was in college hooked me, and I spent a whole bunch of money on some VHS tapes.”

What kind of kid were you at the age of your students at the Freshman Center? “I was outgoing and friendly, for the most part, but I had some self-confidence issues, too, and some acne here and there that made my days miserable at the time. I was really into sports and would go to all of the games, for all the sports. In ninth grade I played football and basketball, but after that year I just focused on basketball.”

What’s the biggest lesson you have learned from students? “That every day is a new day. Sometimes you have students that are friendly to you all the time, but there’s a day when they don’t want to even look at you or talk to you. They’re just having a bad day. And that’s OK — that’s not who they are as a person. They probably just need some space. So I check in a couple days later, like, ‘You good?’ And they confirm that they were having a bad day. So I think my students help reinforce that you need to have that constant thought process of being open to other people’s struggles.” 

If you could go back in time, which grade would you return to? “Either ninth grade or 12th grade. When I was in ninth grade, it was a 7-8-9 building, so we were at the top. And I’d probably want to reevaluate how important academics were at that time, for starting my high school career.

“If it was 12th grade, I’d go back with all the knowledge I’ve gained about not worrying what other people think. Like, I can wear sweatpants to school and it’s not a big deal. That mentality is relaxing to have.” 

What positive changes in education are you seeing as a result of the pandemic? “The ability to pivot and try new things. … I think (the pandemic) has helped wake up the education world, saying, look, things are changing and you better find a way to evolve. Even if you’re on the right track, if you’re on the track and you’re just standing there, you’re going to get run over. We still have to move forward and figure out what works best in all situations, not just stick to what we’ve done for decades.” 

If you walked into school to theme music to suit your personality, which song would you choose and why? “This is so hard, because I listen to a lot of different music. I would love it if it could be on a schedule: Mondays and Tuesdays, some rap; Wednesdays and Thursdays, some ‘90s rock like Guns ‘n Roses; and then on Fridays, something from the ‘60s, like a Beatles song.”

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio


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