by Johannes Brann
Dr. John Lawrence: NEVC’s New High School Principal
By Johannes Brann
With last year’s high school principal returning to the Nevada R-V School District, the Northeast Vernon County R-1 Board of Education hired Dr. John R. Lawrence to serve as High School Principal for the coming 2023-2024 school year.
Said Board President David Bruce, “It’s not every day and definitely not in a district our size that you get to hire someone with the level of knowledge and experience that Dr. Lawrence brings; we’re really glad to have him!”
“I’m a child of the 1960s,” began Lawrence who was born in and spent his first nine years in Beeville, TX. His family spent a few years in Fredonia, KS, before heading 42 miles northwest and settling in Eureka, KS, from which he graduated high school in 1980.
“Those years were getting up at 5 a.m. to milk cows and tend the chickens, hogs and cattle. Dad was a farmer and mom cared for me, my two younger brothers and sister and was the local area babysitter.”
Not knowing what he wanted to go into and happy to work on the farm, Lawrence had not seriously investigated college.
Said Lawrence, “My mom got a call saying there was a federal government Perkins Grant in my name to pay for college and so she literally dragged me off the truck and took me to El Dorado, KS, and there enrolled me in Butler Community College.”
“In my second year at Butler, an instructor in the welding program came up to me and said, ‘You know, you need to be a teacher, the way you help others,’” said Lawrence.
After two years he transferred to Emporia State, from which he received his undergraduate degree in 1985.
“My teaching job was in industrial arts, electronic and I became the drivers’ ed. teacher; did the latter for 30 years,” said Lawrence.
He ended up first as a teacher and then an administrator in Chanute, KS, Public Schools (Unified School District 413) for 17 years and then Garden City, KS, (Unified School District 457) for a further three years. By then he had earned his Masters and Specialist degrees in education.
“At that point, I had enough years in the system to retire but I wasn’t ready to do so,” said Lawrence.
That is when he crossed the state line and served as principal of the middle school in Diamond. Meanwhile, he had begun a doctoral degree program in 2013 at Wichita State University and successfully defended his thesis in 2022. After spending a good number of years as an assistant principal his thesis was titled, “Perspectives of Assistant Principals as Instructional Leaders.”
Having obtained an Ed.D. degree, he put it to use in Missouri by serving as Superintendent of the Everton R-III School District for two years.
“But I found I really missed the daily interaction with students and teachers. I realized I’d rather be a building principal and so I applied for the position at NEVC,” noted Lawrence.
He spoke of his love of organizing curriculum and using testing and evaluation data to identify where students are deficient and teachers can help meet those needs.
Commented Lawrence, “Literacy and numeracy, being able to read, write and handle numbers, are only getting more and more important as time goes by. I care too much about kids to just pass them on through and graduate with few basic skills. I won’t do that and so one of the reasons I’m at Walker is because the superintendent – Mr. Holcomb – along with the teachers here, really believe in that too.”
Lawrence and his wife, Janea, make their home in Carthage. They met when Lawrence served as a “resident administrator” at a dorm at Emporia State. Due to the fire danger, hot-plates were not permitted but as Lawrence made his rounds, he smelled something great and offered not to report this violation if the cook gave him a bite. Janea did and two years later they were wed.
“My wife started out teaching the fourth and fifth grades, became a reading specialist and earned a Masters in Library Science degree. I’ve seen her take kids whom everyone said would never be good at reading and got them to excel. Literacy and numeracy are possible for everyone,” added Lawrence.
The three Lawrence children include Justin, Jeana and Jaymi. Justin served in the U.S. Army for six years, including a deployment to Afghanistan. He is not a police officer in Newton, KS. He and his wife, Shelbie, are expecting their first child, due in January.
Jeana is director of the public library in Chanute while Jaymi is working for the United States Department of Agriculture in Manhattan, KS, while working on her doctorate through Kansas State on how the absorption of phenols can help the body defend against certain types of cancer.
As with many who work to help people, Lawrence’s hobby is something hands-on, which shows immediate results. His love of woodworking has resulted in each their children owning a hand-made dresser set plus he has made special desks and several grandfather clocks.
He and Janea enjoy watching plays and have attended a number of productions at St. Louis’ Fox Theater.
As to his educational goals at Walker, Lawrence named something for teachers and another for the public.
“For teachers, I have two questions and an invitation. First, what kind of grade would you give yourself as a teacher? Second, would you want your son or daughter to be a student here? And my invitation is this: effective teachers are happier teachers; let’s work to be more effective and a lot happier.”
And what are his goals for the people of this district?
Said Lawrence, “I want to make it so that people are wanting to knock our doors down to put their kids here. I want that to be because they know we care so much about each child that we will not just pass them along but do what it takes to help them to read, write and use numbers in effective and powerful ways for life. Teachers report on Aug. 21 and that night is Open House; I can’t wait to get started.”
by Johannes Brann