By Martin Couch
Jay Pickering has been a Patriot at Parkview, a Warrior at Hendrix and now wears the blue of the Bryant Hornets as the[more] district's senior high principal.
Pickering was a former assistant principal in the Little Rock School District and applied for the Bryant principal position when Randy Rutherford was chosen as the district's superintendent.
"Having spent the last eight years in the Little Rock School District as an assistant principal, I wanted to move up to principal," Pickering said. "I didn't see that opportunity in the near future in the Little Rock School District, so I applied here at Bryant and it's been great."
Pickering and his wife Kerrie, who is a physical therapist at Baptist Hospital in Little Rock, both graduated in 1994 from Hendrix College. In 1999, the two were married and they now have an 8-year old son Winston Andrew, named after his paternal grandfather.
"I think it's a wonderful community, school district and high school," Pickering said. "The way things have run in the last several years here, with the last three principals, whom I have known, it's great to have an opportunity."
Pickering and Rutherford have known each other since Pickering was playing high school basketball at Parkview and Rutherford was head basketball coach at Little Rock Fair.
"He and I go way back," Pickering said. "My mother taught at Fair when he was there and he coached against me. He always had wonderful things to say and gave great advice to help a young man like myself gain confidence. He was a mentor for me and I am very fortunate that, in Bryant, the structure is so helping with the superintendent, associate superintendent and directors in the central office. They all have bent over backwards to help me as a new principal coming into a district. They are great resources and I have a great group of five assistant principals that do a fabulous job. I don't have to micromanage them. They have their own strengths and do their jobs phenomenally."
On a day-to-day basis, Pickering gets to school at 7 a.m. and, by 7:40 when students start arriving, he can be found in the hallways.
"I want to let the kids know who I am, so I am extremely visible to them," he said. "I am out in the hallways and at both lunches and when the bell rings at the end of the day, I monitor the traffic out front and the bus traffic. There is a lot of supervision."
Pickering is also working on the curriculum with the new "Common Core" coming on line soon.
"We are going above and beyond what the state has wanted us to do and being in on the planning stages and watching the students progress is very interesting," he said. "The main thing that has really happened this year has been the ninth grade academy taking off. Statistics show that, at that age, it can be make or break and if they get off on the wrong foot they could go down the road to dropping out, but Mr. (Scott) Curtis, Mr. (Eric) Andrews and all the counselors have done a fantastic job.
"Statistically, we have not had an attendance issue," Pickering continued. "We have a very small failure rate with the ninth grade students. So that is one thing that has been a big change for us this year that all of us can hang our hats on. It has shown that it is absolutely working."
As a first-year principal, Pickering is "soaking up things like a sponge" and has some areas that he'd like to see changed.
"The main thing would be the rigor in which our students perform in the classroom is kicked up. Our students are very well behaved and a great group, but when that bell rings at 3:07, they say they are done with the academic side. I would like to see that when they go home, they still must work on some things. Our writing is still not where it needs to be and that's something they are going to have to work on at home. I want to see the rigor in their writing kicked up and I think our faculty is doing a good job with it. But we are going to challenge our students to understand that just because the day is over, doesn't mean they are done with academics. You have to be a life-long learner in both school and out of school."
Pickering believes Bryant is a positive school.
"For a first-year principal, it's an easy job," he said. "The groundwork has already been laid out by the previous administration and it's not that difficult. Everybody is extremely professional and people like to see what we are doing here."
Pickering has already seen the English Department step up its work above the "Common Core" standards that will be implemented in the near future.
"They are taking it to higher levels and I am very appreciative of their effort with that," he said.
As a former athlete, Pickering also knows the value of leadership.
"There is a great correlation between athletes and leadership roles," he said. "When you are involved in a team it helps you to learn how to deal with different people and take a leadership role whether you want to or not. I was fortunate to coach with Al Flannigan at Parkview and win two state championships there and take the girls basketball team from winning only two games a season to what it is now under Lahoma Howard. They are a powerhouse and I knew that then and I wanted to get my hands in the whole scheme of things, not just a team. I wanted to be involved in the whole school and implement the policies. Leadership, if used correctly, is a wonderful thing."