Jennifer Garrett: ‘It’s not how you start, but how you finish’

Susan EspirituKarns/Hardin Valley

Last week, I wrote about Knox County Schools’ Virtual School and foreshadowed a story coming this week about the principal, Jennifer Garrett.

There are many motivations behind an educator’s rationale for choosing the profession: an educator in the family, a past inspirational teacher, ongoing social issues, etc. For some though, they may have faced educational challenges themselves as in Jennifer Garrett’s case, when she struggled early on in school and found that a lot of her teachers were not only frustrated with her, but made her not enjoy school at all.

Her struggles caused her parents to spend a lot of money on tutors to help her and her brother who is dyslexic.

She says she spent long frustrating school days that turned into long nights going to Nazerith College for special tutoring. Jennifer says she worked hard and little by little she started to make gains and found her footing.

Even though she absolutely hated reading, her mother never stopped reading to her and taking her to the library. Jennifer recalls finding a book series the summer before entering high school and for the first time, she read a book she wasn’t forced to read and enjoyed it.

Jennifer worked hard in high school, joined the journalism class, wrote for the school newspaper, and was proud to be an average student. When she graduated, she attended Kalamazoo Valley Community College and then Western Michigan University.

Jennifer felt called to the education path because she says, “While I hated school so much as a child, I loved believing I could make a difference for the students who were like me.”

She graduated at the very top of her class, moved to Tennessee and got her first job with Karns Elementary where she began as a kindergarten teacher.

After 14 years in kindergarten, she moved to third grade, then worked as a TPaCK coach for three years, and was accepted to the Leadership Academy in 2016.

While she was in the Leadership Academy, she served as an assistant principal at Dogwood Elementary. Following her graduate work, she became the campus manager at Dr. Paul L. Kelley Volunteer Academy.

Jennifer says it was there she found her passion for non-traditional schools and had a chance to work with students who were truly at risk of not graduating.

In 2020, she helped the district start the first virtual schools. She served as the elementary principal for two years and then became the principal of all three, consolidating the three to be Knox County Virtual School. See my article from September 13, 2023: Knox County Virtual Schools.

Jennifer says, “My heart is full and I love being an advocate for students and individualizing how we do things. On a side note, after starting out struggling to read, I am an avid reader and proudly tell students all the time about my struggles and my Goodreads goals. I work hard to read at least 500 pages each week. My hope is that they will see it’s not how you start but how you finish!”

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