It’s one kind of challenge to take a failing school and turn it around. It’s another kind of challenge altogether to take a school that’s one of the best in the country and make it even better. Jason Myers, the new principal of Bearden High School, plans to do just that. How? By following in the footsteps of the teachers and coaches who mentored him.
“They inspired me to choose excellence,” Myers says of the figures he remembers from Lenoir City High School, where he graduated in 2000.
Myers has a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in special education, both from UT. He returned to Lenoir City High in 2004, where he worked with the in-school suspension program and coached football and track and field. He then taught and coached at Fulton High School before becoming an assistant principal at West High School in 2012. For the last two years he has been principal at Knoxville Adaptive Education Center.
In coming to Bearden, he is heading up a school with almost 2,100 students, with a flagship sports program and dozens of other clubs and organizations. About 400 students are in college dual enrollment, and there are 1,200 occupied A.P. class spots.
“The bar has done nothing but move up” in the nearly 20 years since he left high school, Myers says. “Students have way more quality options. I believe that most of these changes are to the benefit of the kids.”
When he was a student, he had never really thought seriously about higher education until high school teacher Sandra Towns let him know that she thought he could and should go to college.
“She made me believe in myself, that I could succeed,” Myers says. “I want to make a difference for kids the way she made a difference for me.”
His job, he says, is to make sure that his school and his students are achieving at as high a level as possible. As to whether that might translate into unwelcome pressure, he says, “As a parent of a high school freshman, I am mindful of that.” (His oldest daughter is a freshman at Lenoir City; he and his wife, Christie, also have daughters in fourth and seventh grades.)
“Where growth occurs is when we get out of our comfort zone,” he says. “I believe Bearden High School has the potential to be the best high school.”
To make sure that no one feels overwhelmed or left behind in this race toward greatness, he is making a project of actively listening to the concerns of teachers and students.
“It’s a big school, with a big student body and a big staff. To me a huge part of building a positive culture is hearing the students’ voices,” says Myers.
Myers replaces John Bartlett who was principal at Bearden High for many years and who left to take an important secondary education advisory role with Knox County Schools.
“Dr. Bartlett has been a tremendous help in the transition,” says Myers. So has his administrative team, allowing him to thrive as a leader from his first day.
“This is an incredible school, an incredible community,” Myers says. “It’s been a warm welcome.”