For former football player and coach Jason Hay, his role as principal of Bryant Junior High School is still all about teamwork; it has simply grown to a much larger scale.
“There are many leadership lessons and life skills you learn as an athlete,” Hay said. “It is about taking care of people, motivating them and being there when things are tough. It’s just that the team is a whole lot bigger.”
Jason Hay completed the online Ed.S. in Educational Leadership, Superintendency program at Arkansas State University in 2017, and he is currently in his eighth year as an administrator.
“I knew that as an administrator, I would have a chance to effect more change in the school,” he explained. “Not just in the classroom or my team — I would have a chance to help the entire school population. That was a big draw for me.”
He honed his skills as an education leader while teaching algebra and coaching football and soccer for 13 years before finally moving into a position to lead his own school.
A Family of Teachers
As preparation for his career, Hay obtained a B.A. in special education and a master’s in educational leadership.
“My mom had a special education degree; I was raised visiting her classrooms. I saw the need for a person with compassion and heart to work with a special needs population,” he added. “The role of special education teacher is one of the hardest spots to fill. I felt like it was my calling to do that.”
The A-State online Ed.S. program provided Hay with insights into staffing at the district level, further developing his decision-making skills on a larger scale.
“For a current administrator, seeking a higher degree is a challenge because we have so many activities and games to supervise. The online Ed.S. program provided me with an adaptable schedule to complete my classwork at a convenient time for me and family,” Hay said. “It was very flexible, and I was able to earn several hours during the summer.”
That Hay would pursue a career in education isn’t surprising.
“Both of my parents are educators,” he explained. “As a college student, it took me a little while to grow up and get focused. My parents were pleasantly surprised and proud to see me complete an Ed.S. at A-State.”
Building a Future
Opening a brand new, state-of-the-art school is no easy feat. To that end, Hay developed and executed a budget to purchase equipment and supplies; ordered and managed deliveries of furniture, fixtures and equipment; provided staff development and training; and created processes and procedures for day-to-day operations. He set clear expectations and created a culture centered on student learning and academic achievement from the beginning.
Hay benefited greatly from the vision and insights he gained in A-State’s online Ed.S. in Educational Leadership program.
“Opening a new campus required a great deal of budgeting plus additional tasks I had to accomplish. A building principal does not gain that type of expertise,” he said. “My educational leadership classes helped me to understand building funds and how to allocate FF&E [Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment] money that I hadn’t been exposed to previously.”
Hay kept his 1,500 students in mind at every step, even as he faced new challenges along the way. The school has the second-largest square footage of any junior high school in Arkansas with cutting-edge technology.
“We worked hard to design a building that was safe and student-centered,” he said.
He is thankful to have played a key role in shaping the student experience, with the district central office entrusting him with a project of that magnitude.
“I am grateful for the chance to be part of the junior high project from the very beginning. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.
Assembling the Team
Once building construction was almost completed, Hay was responsible for filling it with faculty who shared his vision for student learning and academic achievement. When he’s hiring teachers, he is looking for more than hard skills.
“Education is not a job; it is a calling,” he said. “We are looking for people who are passionate about taking care of kids no matter what it takes.”
Hay finds his job very rewarding and looks to hire teachers who want to use their energy to pay it forward.
“My goal is to recruit quality people who are looking for their life’s work, not just for a job,” he said. “There’s a huge difference.”
When he’s not overseeing the well-being and educational future of his student body, Hay enjoys spending time with Kelly and their two boys: Spencer, who attends Bryant Junior High School as an 8th grader, and Jackson, who is a sophomore at Bryant High School.
Hay’s advice to those considering A-State’s online Ed.S. program would be to begin as early as possible and to pace yourself as you go.
“As an adult taking online classes, you must be disciplined and self-motivated because there’s nobody checking in with you every day to see if you’re doing your work,” he said. “Once you get a degree, nobody can take it away from you.”