A new mural at Farragut High School highlights the diversity of the student body. Sports, clubs, arts and academics are portrayed, along with “hello” in eight languages. Text on the mural reads “Winners are not people who never lose… but people who never quit.” Local artist Gale Hinton completed the project, along with several smaller murals, in the school’s cafeteria and entrance two weeks ago.
The inspiring art exemplifies the sea change at FHS since Dr. John Bartlett stepped into the role of principal. Bartlett, who served as principal at Bearden High School for 10 years before becoming supervisor of secondary education for Knox County Schools in 2018, commissioned Hinton after hearing students describe FHS as looking like a prison.
Everything speaks, he says, and a lack of positivity is perceived as a negative. The once-gloomy school entrance now sparkles.
The mural also builds community. In August, Bartlett asked students about the culture at the school, and they reported that they felt that the only students who were valued were academic achievers. It has been his goal since then to create a culture that ensures that every student is known, valued and cared about.
“This place is going to be about kids,” he says.
A smaller mural by the school’s front door is a quote from Winnie the Pooh. It reads “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Bartlett had ushered a student who needed some encouragement to the mural just before this interview. That’s the kind of principal he is. He knows students well enough to know what they need.
He wasn’t looking to return as a principal when he had a chat with Knox County’s chief academic officer Jon Rysewyk in July. Farragut principal Ryan Siebe had applied for a human resources position with Knox County Schools, and they wanted him, but it would leave a hole at the school, Rysewyk said. Bartlett made an off-hand comment about “going back to school,” and within a few days, he was offered the job.
It wasn’t an easy decision. He took some time to pray about it and met with his pastor, Rick Dunn. It turned out that Dunn had recently officiated the funeral of a Farragut High School student who committed suicide. His input was that Bartlett had been “mismatched” with the downtown job and that he was a leader of people rather than programs.
Bartlett took the job and was also named director of leadership development for Knox County Schools. He’s spent his first few months focusing on students, which also requires good relationships with teachers. They should be trusted and treated as professionals so they can have the ability to take care of every student, he says.
He admits that it was hard to leave the Bearden High community to come to a rival school. He still has relationships at his former school and continues to care about the Bulldogs, even while cheering for the Admirals.
“There’s no turning back. I love those kids (at Bearden High School). I watched them grow up. But when I got here, I started building relationships here, too.”
As a parent of three students who thrived under Bartlett at Bearden High School, I congratulate the parents and students who will benefit from his leadership at FHS.
Wendy Smith coordinates public relations for the town of Farragut.