Lebanon Road Elementary School’s principal Janelle Styons’ passion for early childhood education is what led her to pursue a position in educational leadership.
Styons grew up in Delaware, but when it was time for Styons to think about continuing her education, she found herself looking at colleges in North Carolina. “My dad grew up in eastern North Carolina,” says Styons. “He grew up dirt poor on the tobacco farm. He worked really hard and was able to put himself through a two-year college.” It was Styons’ close relationship with her father’s family that led her to Elon University.
Styons knew from an early age that she wanted to be a teacher, but she majored in psychology at Elon University.
Styons mother, who recently retired from occupational therapy, and her grandmother, a kindergarten teacher, “was very realistic with me about the commitment it takes to be a teacher,” says Styons, “and encouraged me to explore options that might be similar or different, mostly because my mom watched how late at night my grandmother was planning for her kids.”
“I think that I always knew that even if I went into psychology, I was still going to be in a school somehow,” continues Styons. Styons completed a great deal of research in educational psychology as an undergrad working with real students and parents. “A lot of the skills that I was learning as a psychology major, were directly applicable to the educational setting,” says Styons.
After graduating from Elon University, Styons had the opportunity to teach for two years with the Teach for America program. Charlotte was Styons’ top choice, and after two years teaching kindergarten at Walter G. Byers, she chose to stay beyond her commitment for a third year.
While she completed the Teach for America program, Styons also earned her graduate certificate in teaching. “From there, it was either go back to the psychology route or stay in education,” says Styons, “and for me it was a no-brainer. I was completely invested at that point.”
It was at Walter Byers that Styons first began to think about educational leadership. “Some of the classrooms operated differently than other classrooms,” says Styons. “Some of the rooms were more focused on making sure all students were ready and able to read by first grade, and that was definitely characteristic of my classroom.
In other classrooms, the urgency wasn’t there for kindergarteners to be reading when they left kindergarten, so I wanted to become a school leader from that point so that I could make sure there was a great teacher in every classroom, especially so I could see more and more kindergarteners go to first grade as readers.” Styons continues, “75% of kids who don’t read on grade level by the end of third grade never catch up, so it was my goal to make sure that that was not going to be the outcome for any of my students.”
Styons applied for the New Leaders for New Schools program, through which she was able to earn an accelerated administrative certificate.
Through the New Leaders program, Styons was placed at Ashley Park Elementary where she remained for a year in a hybrid role with facilitation of teams and administrative duties.
After one year at Ashley Park, Styons applied for the assistant principalship at Shamrock Gardens, a partial magnet school, where she served as assistant principal for two and a half years.
This is Styons’ third year at Lebanon Road Elementary. She chose Lebanon Road in part because the mentor with whom she worked at Ashley Park was the Learning Community Superintendent for Lebanon Road when Styons started there.
“I knew what her leadership meant at one school,” said Styons. “I knew what her leadership would mean for all 25 schools that she led.” Lebanon Road is considerably larger than Shamrock Gardens, and Styons was interested in the possibility of impacting more students. Lebanon Road’s strong, veteran staff was also a big selling point.
“The family atmosphere is huge here,” says Styons. “It’s one of the things that draws in new staff members and makes it hard to leave for staff members who have been here for a while.”
Styons is passionate about elementary education. When asked what her favorite thing is about being an elementary school principal, Styons pauses and says, “I can only pick one?” “I love meeting with students and parents at the same time and having students talk to their parents about the goals they’re setting,” continues Styons.
Styons also enjoys the fun and excitement that surrounds elementary school, like celebrating special occasions and dress up days. Styons doesn’t hesitate, however, when asked about the most difficult part of her job: “Time,” she says. “Just having enough time to dedicate to everything that is important because so much is important in the day.”
Styons’ days as principal are packed. She arrives to work before 7:00 am to greet both students and adults. “That’s really important to me – to get to every room every day,” says Styons, who wants to make sure everyone starts off their day great.
She spends time fielding questions, attending meetings, observing teachers and giving feedback. As often as possible, Styons, has lunch with students. “A lot of my day is around instruction,” says Styons, whether that means looking at data to give feedback to teacher, being in a classroom, forming an action plan or planning professional development.
Outside of school, Styons enjoys travel. “I travel just about everywhere I can,” she says. This past summer, Styons travelled with 15 other educators across the nation of Peru on a Fulbright Scholarship. The program enabled Styons to explore all of Peruvian culture in five weeks.
“It’s important to me to model for my staff the importance of being a lifelong learner and continuing to share with them the ways that I prioritize my own professional development,” says Styons.
Styons is also passionate about turning her young students into lifelong learners. “Our vision is success for all,” says Styons, “and the way that we will achieve that is by helping all of our students to connect deeply with adults who genuinely care about them and about their futures and helping students to engage in ways that make sense for them within our school.”
For some children that may mean being a part of a club or thrilled to take pictures for the yearbook or try out for the basketball team – “whatever it is that gets them in the door every day and excited to be here.”
Styons is also focused on continuing to expand on Lebanon Road’s high growth and is proud that the school more than doubled what exceeding growth looks like in the state of North Carolina last year. “Every year is an opportunity to adjust what we’re doing to better and better serve them!” says Styons.