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John Ross Wright Jr., West Side Elementary School, Elizabethton, TN

John's Wright TN Bell

When Mr. John Ross Wright, Jr. was a classroom teacher, he wanted not only to provide students with tools and resources, but to fully develop and nurture all aspects of a child’s development. He often asked himself, “what would I want for my own children?” He always had a desire to do more and to reach students beyond his classroom. After earning his Ed.S. in 2010, he started on a path toward his dream of providing all students with the learning environment and supports needed for success.

In 2013, Mr. Wright became principal of West Side Elementary School. Although new to the elementary level, Principal Wright maintained his vision. He emphasized early reading with the belief that a student’s ability to read well is a vital foundation for later success. He dove into the research and found a reading program that focused on comprehension and fluency, and scheduled time each day for students to practice their reading skills with the support of a teacher. Mr. Wright developed staffing structures at the K-2nd grade level to ensure there were several teaching assistants to support individualized work and provided 3rd-5th grade ELA teachers with part-time assistants. In partnership with staff and the Parent Teacher Organization, he initiated fundraisers to stock every classroom library with a variety of quality books.

Until the beginning of the 2020 school year, Principal Wright was the only administrator in the building and served in several roles that included everything from setting the vision for the school and acting as an instructional leader, to creating schedules for school employees. He developed a School Improvement Leadership Team to analyze school data and set priorities. The team works collaboratively to set goals and devise action plans while Principal Wright keeps his eye on progress. Principal Wright believes not only in providing leadership positions through formal structures like a leadership team, but also in providing teachers with professional learning opportunities and collaborative planning. He relies on teachers to help him understand needs. For example, teachers raised concerns about missed learning time when students were pulled into intervention classes. Principal Wright listened to the concerns and devised a rotating intervention schedule where all students attend a specialized session. He also devised a flexible master schedule to allow for collaboration and planning time for teachers and to meet needs as they arise.

Principal Wright believes that student learning and development are strengthened through enrichment opportunities. He also believes that physical and social-emotional health are vital to student learning. To promote students’ physical and social-emotional health, he created numerous enrichment experiences through clubs and extracurricular activities, including Running Club, Girls on the Run, and the West Side Rocket/Pine Derby Club. He built a 50-minute window into the schedule for lunch that includes at least 20 minutes of recess for students to go outside, get exercise, and breath fresh air. He also walks the walk – literally. Weather permitting, Principal Wright is on the track each morning, walking a morning mile with students who arrive early. Mr. Wright makes it a point to participate in activities to build connections with students and the larger school community.

Principal Wright is a problem-solver and a collaborator. When he saw a need for students, especially those with disabilities, to have a safe place to play outside and engage in physical activity, he sought grant funding ($100,000) to add exercise equipment to the school grounds. He partnered with the Parent Teacher Organization to raise funds to create an accessible, adaptive playground for people of all abilities. Principal Wright is credited with cultivating an outstanding Parent Teacher Organization by attending every meeting and fostering meaningful involvement opportunities. Families serve in leadership roles, such as the Family Engagement and Parent Compact Team, which directly influence school policy.

Principal Wright is known not only for being an accessible servant leader, but also for being a genuine participant in the school community. He lives within five minutes of the school and is often seen running or biking. He has worked to construct a family atmosphere at West Side by serving the whole school community and being fully engaged.

Read a transcript HERE.