Dr. Jimmy Sullivan is the principal of Smyrna's Rocky Fork Middle School, the newest middle school in the Rutherford County School system, and he says there is nowhere else he'd rather be.
"It is an amazing task, an amazing challenge. Honestly, I'm very humbled to have the opportunity," he said. "I appreciate Mr. Odom and the school board placing me here."
For Sullivan it's a return home, where he's ready to cultivate a school culture of support.
Cultivating a culture
"It's something I'm passionate about," he said. "We want people to feel welcome when they walk in, that we have a bigger purpose. It starts with me as the leader, making sure our staff understands that culture is something that is going to define us as a school, and we've got to make sure that the culture and environment is positive and supportive, and allows, not just our kids, but ourselves to grow with our school."
He believes a good school starts with the right people, and he's confident that Rocky Fork Middle School has gathered a first-rate team.
"That took the first three or four months," he said. "We were honestly shocked at the amount of attention that opening a brand-new school attracts, and it speaks to the education that Rutherford County Schools provides when you have four or five hundred educators come and sign into your job fair."
For a leader starting with a good team, "After that, it's communication," he said. "I believe that people, as long as they understand that you care about them as people, that you care about them growing . . . and as long as we know what the expectations are, the largest majority of us will rise to those expectations."
Draws on past experience
Sullivan is passionate about the middle school experience, and believes it is critical for kids, especially now.
His career started as a middle school teacher, then as an assistant principal in a middle school, and he's been a middle school principal for the past five years.
However, there's a more personal reason for his focus on these developmental years.
"Middle school for me...is when my parents were getting a divorce," he said. "I had a teacher in Rutherford County at Walter Hill, Mr. Conley, who stepped up and really helped provide the support I needed, along with my mom," he said. "Which direction would my life had gone without that help? Where would any middle school kid go?"
Sullivan knows so many kids have their own challenges.
"Middle school is a time when they test their boundaries," he said. "And we provide the structure for them."