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Young principal puts his dream to work

Sitting in a brown executive chair, the green-eyed sandy-haired man scoots up to his desk and prepares for the day. After sorting through papers, the school leader opens his gray agenda book, scheduling times to meet with teachers the following week.  

Since August 2020, Jacob Brown has been the principal at Collinsville Elementary School, a position he achieved after gaining several years of teaching experience in Dekalb County.

A native of Valley Head, Alabama, a town with about 550 citizens, Brown was raised as an only child in a Christian home. He spent most of his childhood living with his father, a local police officer, and grandmother.

"I was a daddy's boy. I loved my mom, but my father and I had a special connection, and he taught me everything that I needed to know. He showed me how to be independent and a man, and we are still very close to this day," Brown said.  

In addition, Brown credits his father with emphasizing the importance of education and literature.

When he was a child, Brown said he had access to literature outside of school, thanks to an in-home library that contained about 5,000 books. He said while his peers entertained themselves by playing video games, he spent most of his time reading classic tales such as "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Because of Winn-Dixie."  

His flair for reading and language arts led him to tutor peers at the early age of 9 while he was in the fourth grade. Brown said he primarily assisted English as a Second Language (ESL) students who struggled to understand the material because of the language barrier. He said he took delight in offering them support and encouragement.    

"Somewhere down the line, I developed love and appreciation for ESL students. I believed in them and enjoyed extending a helping hand to them. I did not want them to feel discouraged because they did not understand it the first time. I knew that, with just a little bit of help and motivation, they would understand it," Brown said. 

From there, his love for teaching was born. Brown was confident that he wanted to be an educator when he grew up. 

As he navigated through grade school and became a teenager, he continued to aid many students with school work. But when Brown was not helping his counterparts and reading books, he worked side-by-side with his father in the family lawn care business.   

Brown said his father demonstrated hard work and humility, traits that he said he took note of and applied to his life. Those lessons came in handy as Brown serviced lawns of wealthy clients who, at times, would treat him and his father as inferior. However, moments like those were pivotal for him in his journey to success.   

"Sometimes, clients would turn their nose up at us and view us as less than because we cut their grass. I was not too fond of how it made me feel at first, but it sparked a fire in me. I said to myself, 'If I work hard enough, I was going to be somebody one day, and I will treat people with dignity and respect’," Brown said.    

After graduating from high school in 2011, Brown enrolled in Northeast Community College, where he earned his Associate degree. Shortly after, he enrolled in Athens State University to further his education.    

In 2014, while still in college, he worked as a substitute teacher. Even as a substitute, Brown went beyond enhancing the student's educational experience by meeting the needs of students.

In 2016, Brown earned his education degree and applied to several schools in the Dekalb County area. One of those schools was Collinsville Elementary School.   

Initially, Brown said he wanted to return to Valley Head to teach at the local elementary school where he grew up. But he applied for the position in Collinsville because he wanted to impact students in a learning environment that was unfamiliar to him. 

Furthermore, he believed his faith played a role in his making the decision.  

"I am not from Collinsville, and at the time, I did not know much about the community itself, but God laid it upon my heart to step outside of my comfort zone, to make a difference and enrich young kids’ lives. Those kids needed education, and I had the tools and the skills to give it to them, and that's the only thing that mattered," Brown said.  

Brown's application landed in the hands of Collinsville Elementary School assistant principal Anna Hairston, who previously worked with Brown at Valley Head Elementary.

"I remembered his effort while subbing and was interested in hiring him to teach fourth grade for us," Hairston said. "His attention to detail and willingness to go beyond was impressive to me. His interview was as impressive as the work I had witnessed, and we brought him on board."    

After accepting the position and achieving his dream of becoming a teacher, Brown said his first day at Collinsville was one to remember.  

"When I walked into the elementary school, it felt very welcoming, but I was also nervous. It was like walking into kindergarten for the first time. It was kids everywhere, and they were energetic, happy but most of all loving," Brown said.  

He added, "It was a wild day, and it was over within a blink of an eye. The administrators were there to support me and each day just got better and better."

While serving as a teacher at Collinsville, Brown enrolled in the University of Alabama Huntsville’s English Language Learning graduate program. He said he wanted to enhance his skills to assist students better, considering that many of Collinsville Elementary students are foreign language students.  

But this was not all. While serving as a full-time teacher pursuing a graduate degree Brown also served as a city councilman in Valley Head and owned two businesses, including the family lawn business. 

Brown said it is easier for him to have a flexible schedule considering that he does not have kids of his own and is a single man.

Though Brown wore many hats, his passion for being an educator was his top priority. He was involved in various educational committees for school improvement and increased the literacy rate by spearheading several reading programs at the school.  

But he wanted to take his leadership to another level.  Brown, who said he loves school improvement, wanted to make some changes to benefit the school. Priorities included rebranding the school's image, enhancing the current climate and culture, making it more inclusive, and creating initiatives supporting literacy needs.  

In 2020, three years after earning his master's degree, he became the principal of Collinsville Elementary School. He also earned a doctorate in education degree from Middle Tennessee State University. 

Brown said he learned various leadership and teaching skills from his mentor turned co-worker Lori Owens. The two met when Owens was a college student and a teacher's assistant when Brown was in the fifth grade. 

Owen said Brown was "a very organized little boy" and carried himself in a professional manner at a young age. "When he was a kid, he said he set up his basement as an office because he wanted to be a teacher. He worked hard back then, and he had a vision," Owen said. 

Owen said Brown has been a positive influence for both students and administrators.  She added, "He is a good role matter for the kids. I always tell my students that I once taught him. Now he is a principal and my boss, and anything is possible if you put your mind to it. It has been fun watching him grow up." 

In the future, Brown said he would like to become a school improvement specialist for the district. In addition, he said that he would love to open an educational-based consulting firm in rural Alabama and write professional publications on topics related to ESL.

In the meantime, Brown said he hopes students at Collinsville Elementary will remain dedicated as they pursue their goals.

"Some days, I honestly can't believe that I made it this far, but I knew that through education, hard work, and faith, I would be a successful educator. Even though my students at the elementary school are very young, they have dreams as well, and we work hard every day to see them achieve it. I hope that they will realize that if they hold on to their plans, put their best foot forward and never give up, their dreams can come true," Brown said.