Five Questions: Indian Trail principal talks about past in ETSU sports, opinions on today's school challenges

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Dec 21, 2018 at 9:39 AM

Indian Trail Intermediate School Principal James Jacobs has always had his eyes set on working within Johnson City Schools after working in the Elizabethton City Schools and Kingsport City Schools. After years of working in local education, Jacobs said he’s happy to serve as a principal in a district he said takes pride in “being the best.” 

In his personal and professional life, the West Virginia native said he’s most inspired by his mother, Faye, who is fighting cancer and has taught him through the years to work hard and “be tough, stand up for myself and fight for what is right.” 

Jacobs recently emailed the Johnson Cty Press to tell us more about his job, his opinions on local education and some of his personal interests and hobbies. 

Jacobs Briefly: 

Dog person or cat person: “I’ve always been a dog person, but our family has a cat.” 

Hobbies: Fly fishing, hunting, hiking and camping. 

Favorite TV shows: “Seinfeld” and “The Office.”  

Interesting fact: Played basketball at East Tennessee State University.  

What led you to the local district? 

I’ve always wanted to work for Johnson City Schools; it just took a long time to get here. I’ve always known Johnson City Schools was a very professional organization. I knew they took pride in being the best. We are student-centered and are characterized as having positive relationships with students, faculty/staff and the community. Previously, I have been a principal in other great districts such as Elizabethton City Schools and Kingsport City Schools. I learned a lot through those experiences, and I made many meaningful friendships.

What is your favorite part about working in this district?

I love working with our students and teachers at Indian Trail. We have so many great kids with tons of talent and potential in Johnson City. When I see our students perform at concerts, intramurals, etc., I’m just blown away at what our kids can do. I really enjoy spending time with our students. I love it when I see them having fun in the gym and, 30 minutes later, working hard on a challenging assignment in the classroom. I also love working with our teachers. We have some of the most dedicated, hardworking and student-focused teachers in the profession.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing schools today?

I talk to our students and staff about our challenges often. For students, I believe that a rising concern is social media. It’s important for adults to speak with students about their use of social media and the implications that can come with it. For staff, we discuss mental health issues almost daily, and it is now one of our top priorities. We spend a lot of time, effort and energy on interventions for students with mental health issues. These are issues that can cause disruptions to the learning environment.

Because Johnson City Schools has created a data-driven process, we are able to be proactive instead of reactive to behavior and mental health issues. In fact, our school was used as a model at the National Mental Health Convention this past year in Las Vegas. We believe this issue is on the rise nationally and showing no signs of slowing down.

School safety has been a hot-button issue recently. What are your thoughts or concerns about school safety and how to improve it?

Again, I go back to the mental health crisis in our country. I see students and parents that struggle with this on a daily basis. I believe schools and districts are very limited in what can be done, but we need to do all that we can. This is more of a legal, legislative problem, not a school or district problem. We know what we need to do to keep our schools safe.

Could you tell us more about your involvement in ETSU sports? 

Well, I grew up in West Virginia and was recruited by Coach Les Robinson to play basketball at East Tennessee State University in 1988. Funny, I had never been to the state of Tennessee before my recruiting visit, and I fell in love with this area immediately. I always remember how nice everyone was. At every grocery store or gas station, people would be quick to start a conversation and be very kind and friendly. I was fortunate to play with some amazing athletes from ‘88-91, and I learned quickly how hard it was to play at that level. In fact, I rarely made it off the bench! It was a great time to play for the Bucs. ETSU went from a 14-15 season in 1987 to a 20-11 season in 1988 on the way to four conference championships and four NCAA tournament appearances.

The traveling to schools and tournaments was great at that time, but I’ll never forget visiting local schools to play pre-season exhibition games so we could meet fans. We played at Crockett, Dobyns-Bennett, Gatlinburg-Pittman, Johnson City Boys Club, Carver, one of the Sullivan County High Schools, Abingdon, Lebanon, and some I’m sure I forgot. We met so many kids in these communities and signed so many autographs our hands would be sore. Basically, we built a fan base from scratch by being visible and reaching out to East Tennessee, and it worked. Stats-wise, my career for the Bucs was very unspectacular. Life experiences, however, were life-changing.

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