Dr. Kenneth Gay has no doubt in his mind that he is in the profession and position he’s supposed to be in. And that makes him one confident and motivated principal at John Tyler High School.
In the late 1980s, Gay saw the movie “Lean on Me.” The film chronicles the life and times of Joe Clark, the real-life principal at Eastside High School, an inner city New Jersey school that is in need of reform. He’s a man who not only wants to make a difference at the school but also in the community, he said.
“When I saw the movie, it kind of reminded me of my neighborhood and the high school that I would be attending, a challenging high school,” Gay said. “But, it showed how … if the right individual came along and … had buy-in, not only would it make a positive difference at a campus, but it would also uplift (the) community.”
It’s that vision led Gay to accept the offer to serve as John Tyler High School principal this school year.
“With my various different backgrounds and experiences, it was almost like I just knew this was the perfect fit for me,” he said during an interview in August. “And I’ve never had any other feeling but that since I’ve had the opportunity to come into this position.”
Born and raised in Lake Charles, La., Gay earned a bachelor’s degree from Southeastern Louisiana University, a masters from Prairie View A&M University and a doctorate from the University of Houston.
He earned a business certificate from Rice University, along with principal and superintendent certifications. He also is a graduate of the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College. His mother is a retired educator, and his father is a retired accountant and business owner.
Gay began his education career as an elementary teacher and quickly moved into administration, where he spent five years at the elementary level, before moving to the high school level about five years ago.
Before TISD, he served as the associate principal at Nimitz High School in Aldine.
In addition to his work as an educator, he also has been in the military for more than 18 years, where he serves as a major in the Army Reserves.
He also has been a volunteer serving the Aldine Youth Community Center board of directors in Houston and serves as a mentor to other educators, soldiers, community members and students.
“Mentoring and service has always just been a big part of my life, and I could truly just say that I was blessed to have hard-working parents who instilled just good work ethics in myself,” he said.
When Gay arrived at John Tyler, he asked two main questions his first day on the job. They were, “What makes John Tyler great?” and “What can make John Tyler even greater?”
He received a variety of responses, but two that he mentioned were the guiding principles and a staff retreat. The principles were created several years ago and form a framework on which the staff can focus.
The school had a staff retreat a few years ago, and some of the staff members said it brought about a lot of unity. So, Gay decided to implement that again after several years without it.
During the summer retreat, which took place in San Antonio, Gay and about 70 percent of the teaching staff considered what the qualities of an effective teacher are, what a professional learning community looks like and how staff members can hold themselves and their peers accountable.
“What is the commitment that we are going to put forth to make sure that we’re living up to our motto success and nothing less?” he said.
He also made a point to start building a good relationship with Robert E. Lee High School Principal Gary Brown. Together, they were looking to share ideas and strategies to effectively move schools forward academically.
Even though the schools are rivals at times, he said “when it comes to academics, whatever information that we can share between the two schools that’ll benefit our students instructionally, we’re going to be all for moving for that in the future.”
Some of the positives that have happened this year include enrollment growth, enthusiasm in the community about the campus, and the setting of high expectations for the students.
A primary goal is to ensure students are prepared to be competitive after high school whatever their plans: college, trade school, military, or the workforce.
Gay said it will continue to be a challenge to consistently find and hire the most highly qualified, effective teachers.
The school also is going to focus on improving communication channels with parents so they feel like they have the opportunity to talk with teachers and counselors about their concerns.
Amid the responsibilities of each day, Gay remains optimistic and motivated because he remembers why he is here.
“I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “When I saw ‘Lean on Me’ I wanted to be a principal, so it’s not like work, I enjoy my job.”