It’s a typical Friday night in Johnson Arena. The Jeffersonville Red Devils are taking on the Silver Creek Dragons in a highly anticipated match up. The score is tight as the game is coming down to the wire. The crowd is full and the student sections are roaring back and forth, chanting and taunting. And like so many events at Jeff High, sitting in the upper level watching the school she has been a part of for so many years is Julie Straight. However, something is different about this game. For Straight, it is one of her last as principal of Jeffersonville High School. As the game ends and the crowd fills the gym floor, she looks from the balcony with a smile. And as cheers of “We Are Jeff High” ring out, Straight remarks, “This is what it’s all about: Pride.”
On Friday, December 20, Greater Clark County Schools announced that Straight would be moving into a new position as Academy and CTE (career and technical educator) coordinator for the district. In this position, she will be taxed with keeping academy curriculum, teachers and opportunities in line with the workforce. Straight believes that her experience in implementing the academy model at Jeff High will help her. “I’ve had all the training…it gives me a great foundation,” she says.
Straight is excited about the position and believes the job will “present a new challenge” that she has the “skillset to meet.” Straight cited family as the main reason for the move. “I have my first grandbaby coming in March,” she says. “Not living on the Jeff High extracurricular calendar is what I need to do for my family right now.”
While Straight is excited about her new challenge, she will miss the school she has spent most of her life at as a student, teacher and administrator. “I’ve loved it,” she says. “I don’t regret any of it.”
Straight’s time at Jeff High began many years before becoming principal. A member of the class of 1982, she was always full of spirit and pride in her school as a student. “I loved high school,” she said. Despite this, Straight didn’t know she wanted to become a teacher at the time.
She went to Purdue for engineering, but she soon realized that wasn’t the path for her. She left college and got married, and when she went back to school she knew she wanted to pursue teaching, and she wanted to teach at Jeff High, but it was not her first teaching job.
“It was a hard job market,” says Straight. However, with some experience from teaching summer school, she was able to find an opening at New Washington. There Straight says she learned a lot and gained valuable teaching experience.
After two years at New Washington, she got a call from Jeff High and soon landed a job at her dream school. She would remain at Jeff for the rest of her teaching career.
Straight was an English teacher before moving into an administrative role. For Straight, she says “teaching is all about relationships and problem-solving.” She believes that she gained a lot from teaching that has made her a better principal. “I have a deep appreciation for what teachers are doing, all the balls they are juggling,” she says. “It’s very demanding work.”
Straight initially did not intend to move into administration. “I kinda stumbled in,” she said. “When I was getting my masters, I had 2 children, and the classes that were offered when I could take them were administrative classes and I really liked it.”
Straight had her administrative license for a couple of years before applying for an administrative position, but eventually she “wanted a new challenge.” She interviewed a couple of times, and in 2010 she stepped into the position of assistant principal.
Two years later, in 2012, there was a lot of movement within the administration, and after a mid-year switch, Straight became interim principal in October. She has held the top job ever since.
Coming into the job, Straight says her goals were ensuring the highest-quality teachers and creating more pride in what is happening at Jeff.
Straight is proud of the many improvements she has seen in her time as principal, “We’ve done good work,” she says. This includes the improvement in academic standing, the district-wide PRIDE program, and the hiring of many great teachers who have “embraced the Jeff High family.” However, Straight is proudest of the many “top-notch” opportunities offered at Jeff, both in the classroom and through extracurriculars. “I really believe, especially for a large urban school, we offer more opportunities than any school around,” she says.
Although she has loved the job, Straight acknowledges the challenges of being a principal. “There are some really tough decisions that have to be made, but kids have to be first, and that makes other things easier,” she says. “We’ve had some situations with students, where their lives were in the balance or the school’s safety was in the balance…But we’ve come through everything.”
Another challenge of being a principal is time management. “This has not been a job, this has been my life,” says Straight. As the leader of the school, she feels it is her responsibility to attend the events of the school and to understand and know about all the people and activities occurring at Jeff. “You don’t own your calendar… because things happen,” says Straight, “so you have to be flexible.”
And while often it is easy to get bogged down with all the work, it is her Jeff High community that keeps her head up. “I’ve been exposed to so many great things, events, people, life-changing things,” says Straight, “seeing how people care for our kids definitely has made me a better person.”
Reflecting back, she hopes that people remember she “took a lot of pride in the work and loved it.” Looking forward, she is optimistic, “I truly hope… that [Jeff High] can and will be better,” she says.
Straight says she will miss many moments at Jeff, but most of all she says, “I’ll miss seeing kids every single day.” As she looks to a new challenge, there is one thing that Straight says will always be true, “I am a Red Devil. That will never change.”