Former P.E. teacher to take the reins July 1.
When the next school year starts at Nantahala School, students will be greeted by a new principal, but not an unfamiliar face. James Bryan, who has been a P.E. teacher at the school for more than 12 years, took over as principal effective July 1.
While the new position signals a big career shift for Bryan, who has spent 19 of his 21 professional years in Western North Carolina, he says that having worked with the staff and students at the school for so long gives him a lot of confidence.
“Obviously, I feel at home in Nantahala,” Bryan said. “Like a manager of a ball team, I already know the players,” he said of the faculty and staff at Nantahala. “I already know the positions and I know who can do what, so I'm not going to have to go in and figure it all out. I know them on a first name basis. I will ultimately be their boss, but I know these people as colleagues and friends also.”
Bryan's tenure will signal a return to stability for the school after a year of challenges and uncertainty due to the extended illness if its former principal, Robbie Newton, who passed away this spring after a long battle with cancer.
“Robbie and I were good friends and good colleagues,” said Bryan, adding that he does not intend to make a lot of changes. “If something’s not broke, you don't need to fix it. Robbie and I were on the same page on a lot of things that we'd like to see,” he said.
This year, the small school in the “Land of the Noonday Sun” celebrated its fourth straight year with a 100 percent graduation rate.
“We're doing something right,” Bryan said.
Originally from Jacksonville, Fla., Bryan moved to North Carolina in 1992, teaching in Hendersonville for nine years before transferring to Nantahala. He is a graduate of Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, where he received a Master's in Administration. In 2002, Bryan became National Board certified in Physical Education and is up for renewal this year.
In 2010, Bryan was elected the North Carolina High School P.E. Teacher of the Year. He humbly credits the support of his students and colleagues for the award.
“It was a special honor,” he said, noting he was one of three P.E. teachers in the state that taught a full K- 12 curriculum.
Bryan says that while this is the right time and right place for a career change, he will still miss coaching.
“We have a great group of kids at Nantahala,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of them grow up and graduate ... from the time they were in kindergarten.”
Though he'll be wearing a new hat, Bryan says he expects to have the continued respect and cooperation of the students. “I think we have some common ground already, but they know I'm not a pushover,” he said. “They know what type of teacher I was and what I expected from them as students. I only expected the best from them, and they expected the same from me.”
Bryan says he is also grateful for the support of the community, noting that he has already received many messages and emails from parents and others.
“I couldn’t have picked a better place to become a principal,” said Bryan of Nantahala School, adding that he expects the outstanding staff at the school will make his transition to administration an easy one. “The staff really make that school what it is.”
During past year, it was often necessary for the teachers and staff at the school to “step up to the plate” and handle the day-to-day operations, noted Bryan. While it was a challenging time, it also showed him what a great team the school had in its administrative office.
Asked what his management style will be, Bryan said, “I plan to listen to the teachers, the community and certainly the students. I have a good rapport with the students, as a P.E. teacher, and if there is something going on at the school that needs to be addressed, I think I’m very approachable,” he said.
On the other hand, Bryan said he knows there will be a certain learning curve for the new job. “I know I'm going to make mistakes, but I'm going to do the best I can not to make the same mistake twice.”
Bryan’s selection for the position was announced last week in a press release from the office of Macon County superintendent, Dr. Dan Brigman, which noted that the process of hiring a new principal for the school had been expedited.
“Congratulations to Principal Bryan and best wishes to the entire Nantahala Team!” read the statement. “We look forward to another very successful academic year!”