Owen assistant principal recognized with award

Jim Lewis named principal of the year by NC Association of Educators

Fred McCormick

Being an assistant principal requires being a lot of things to a lot of different people.

Jim Lewis, one of three assistant principals at Owen High School, is an authority figure for students, a supporter of his staff and a contributor to the school’s administrative team. According to the North Carolina Associations of Educators, he’s also the assistant principal of the year.

Each year the NCAE - the largest professional association for public school employees in the state - recognizes administrators for “outstanding contributions to staff, students and public education as a whole.” Lewis, in his seventh year as an assistant principal at Owen, was selected as the 2017 winner.

Owen High School assistant principal Jim Lewis works on next school year's master schedule at a table in the school's cafeteria during lunch.

“(Owen) is the key to winning this award,” said Lewis, whose been at the school as a teacher and administrator for 21 years. “I’ve worked under four different principals in my time here, and they’ve all had different styles. They each brought different leadership styles to the school, and I’ve tried to adopt pieces of each of them to create my own leadership style.”

Lewis grew up in south Florida as a student in the Palm Beach County School District, the fifth-largest in the state (and 13th-largest in the country). When he was in high school, his family moved to Western North Carolina. He attended Blue Ridge School, a combined elementary, middle and high school in Cashiers.

“It was quite a difference,” he said. “That was quite a culture shock.”

Not only did Lewis enjoy himself in the smaller setting, his time in Jackson County helped set him on his career path. His pastor took him to lunch with Fred Bentley, who Lewis learned at the time was the president of what was then Mars Hill College.

“He got up and left and came back with a scholarship application,” Lewis said. “I had decided by then that I really was a small school guy.”

Lewis planned to pursue a degree in political science and pre-law, but a background in band led him in another direction. He decided to major in music education without completely ruling out the idea of going to law school later.

“As band life went on over the course of four years I fell in love with public education and the impact that band programs can have at schools,” he said.

His first job as a teacher was in Lake View, South Carolina. Five years later Lewis returned to WNC where he was hired at Owen in 1996 by Ivan Randolph. Lewis immediately felt at home and spent 13 years as the school's band director.

"This school has such deep roots in the (Swannanoa) Valley," he said. "There is a lot of 'Valley Pride' here, and that's infectious. I like that you can go basically anywhere here in the Valley and you know people and people know you."

It was in that environment that Lewis decided to seek his master's degree in school administration from Western Carolina University. He moved into his current role in 2010.

Owen High School assistant principal Jim Lewis credits the school's administrative team, which features his fellow assistant principal Gina Toomey (left), with helping him earn the N.C. Association of Educators assistant principal of the year award.

Owen principal Meg Turner, who nominated Lewis for the assistant principal of the year award, said the school is "very fortunate" to have him.

"As a former band director, Mr. Lewis understands the importance of people working together. He gets how teams must collaborate and trust one another," Turner said in an email. "He is a shining star at work and whenever someone needs something, he is always quick to jump in and help out. I consult with him on every tricky decision that I make. I consider him not only an excellent colleague, but also a friend."

Turner credits Lewis with being an "outstanding administrative team member" who is essential to the school achieving a graduation cohort rate of nearly 90 percent for three consecutive years.

Although the award recognizes Lewis specifically, he believes it is the result of the collaborative environment in which he works.

"This is a team effort," he said. "Everything we do at Owen High School as an administrative team we really do as a team."