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Monday, September 10, 2007

Meet Jocelyn Lyons, New Principal Of John Sevier Middle School

"Whatever you need to do to make those children successful in life, that's what you wake up and go to work for."

That's the goal Jocelyn Lyons lives for. The Kingsport native is the new principal at John Sevier Middle School, and she's the first African-American principal since the Kingsport City School System integrated back in 1966.

"The pressure in today's educational world is such that the world is changing so fast, and as teachers, we have a goal to move the children further along in reading, math and the sciences," Ms. Lyons says. "Our colleges are telling us we have to start getting the children ready for college in middle school now; no longer can we wait until 10th, 11th or 12th grade anymore, and we share that pressure with the parents."

Ms. Lyons is no stranger to pressure. She was born into the same school system she now leads, her mom being Mrs. Janice Mills Russaw, a well-known, well-like teacher at Lincoln Elementary. "I'm seeing students at Sevier now, who were taught by my mom and they tell me she was one of the best teachers they ever had. That helps them feel at home at John Sevier."

While at Dobyns-Bennett, she joined the Ebony Club and among its various activities, she was also one of its past presidents. "The Ebony Club was wonderful in instilling pride in everything I and my fellow club members did. That's when I found out I had leadership potential."

After getting her masters degree in teaching from East Tennessee State in 1997, she taught a year at Tennessee High in Bristol (she was also the head girls' basketball coach), and then taught six years at a school near Louisville, Kentucky. It was there, she was introduced to a new kind of teaching, the kind that produces leaders and administrators.

"The program I came through was through the Southern Regional Education Board (SRED), which emphasizes leadership teaching instead of managerial teaching," she says. "Our focus concentrated on teaching children to be leaders in the classroom."

She heard about the opening at John Sevier Middle School, and had no hesitation in applying for the job. "If you're going to be afraid of challenge," she says, "you probably don't want to go into teaching. The SRED program requires you to have courage and not be afraid to stretch past your limitations. In that sense, I knew I was ready for anything, because I knew I would be doing my best."

She came back to John Sevier Middle School as "a principal on a mission."

"The SAT and ACT folks tell us, college readiness begins in the 8th grade now," she says. If you want to know whether a child is going to college, look at where they are in the 8th grade. Parents are key in this observation, because we want them to talk to us, as well as talk to their children. Sometimes, we wait too late to have those conversations."

"Literacy is the key to success," says Ms. Lyons. "Most state legislatures determine where they're going to be prisons, based on the literacy rate of the people who live in that area. If you have a high literacy rate, the chances of a new prison being built in your backyard are very slim. If Bill Gates is going to build a Microsoft plant in your area, he bases his decision on the education level of the folks who live there. He certainly cannot afford to have an uneducated work force for the kind of business he's building."

Jocelyn Lyons is ready for the future of the students of Kingsport. "Communities need to know that education is one of the most important qualities a child can have."

"Education really DOES make a difference."