New Nation Ford High principal already feels at home

Jason Johns, the new principal at Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill, waves to parents as they pick up their children Monday.
Jason Johns, the new principal at Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill, waves to parents as they pick up their children Monday.

While he officially has been principal at Nation Ford High School since June, the full responsibility of the job didn’t hit Jason Johns until Sunday, just hours before the beginning of a new school year.

Johns was locking up the school about 6 p.m., after six hours of final preparation by teachers and staff.

Johns and two of his six children drove around the campus, stopping in the back to pick up trash at the student parking lot.

Johns said he picked up the trash to set an expectation for his students. “I wanted to show them someone cares,” he said.

He also picked up the trash because, “I wanted it to look nice; this is my home.”

Slightly more than 12 hours later, Johns was back on his campus home for what he said was one of the smoothest opening days he has seen.

Johns, 39, is the second principal in Nation Ford High history, replacing Beverley Bowman, who opened the school in 2007. Bowman is now the assistant superintendent for instruction and administration for York schools.

Last year, Johns was principal at Banks Trail Middle School in Fort Mill, where his oldest son, Isaiah, was a student.

Johns came to Fort Mill schools from the Rock Hill school district. He started as an English teacher at Rock Hill High, was a districtwide literacy coach, then an assistant principal at Northwestern High School.

As the Rock Hill school district’s literacy coach, Johns said, he learned a lesson that is the foundation of his style as principal: He didn’t work for any principal, and he had to convince principals and teachers his ideas had merit, without a way to discipline them if they didn’t use them.

“You have to have people that take a step of faith. It’s all about relationships and integrity,” he said.

Building those relationships has been one of Johns’ priorities at Nation Ford High, and it is a challenge, as there are 167 people on staff and about 2,000 students.

He started building those relationships by talking with department chairs, asking them what National Ford does well and what changes could be made.

His goal was to find some small but visible changes to make immediately. “You have to develop that emotional bank account, show them you are really listening,” he said.

Among the small changes is how sophomores and juniors who drive to school are allowed to park. Instead of picking a spot anywhere in the lot, they now fill the lot a row at a time. The change, Johns said, “helps set the organizational tone.”

Another foundation for Johns is that “there will be no emergencies at Nation Ford.”

“Things will be handled in a calm matter; that’s what impacts the students,” he said.

Johns also wants to students to know him. He wants to be one of the last people who touches them before they leave high school – be the last safeguard.

“If you are struggling in high school, you have someone you can turn to. That’s often the last time that will happen for many people. There is no one else to save them unless it’s God,” he said.

That effort started Monday after dismissal. Johns was the last person parents and students saw before they left the campus. He stood in the middle of the drop-off and pickup driveway, directing traffic, approaching cars to introduce himself to parents and asking students how their day had been.

“Anything we need to change?” Johns asked one student. “That’s a tall order, take your time.”

Don Worthington: 803-329-4066, @rhherald_donw

Back to school

Rock Hill schools open today and York schools open Wednesday.