John Elliott is new principal of Junction City Elementary

Published 3:30 pm Tuesday, July 9, 2024

By Bobbie Curd

John Elliott says he’s “being handed the keys to a well-oiled machine …” as he becomes Junction City Elementary School’s new principal. He replaces Pam Shunk, who had been with the school for 14 years.

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“It’s actually terrifying to follow her,” Elliott says and chuckles. “Some really big shoes to fill …”

Elliott says he understands that his first year of being a principal will be a tremendous learning experience. “The staff, the people, everyone has been incredible to me and really embraced me. I’m really going to learn.”

A Harrodsburg native, Elliott says he’s a non-traditional educator. He spent a decade in the restaurant industry before he headed toward education.

“Through meeting my wife – we were both in Louisville at the time – she was finishing up her grad degree to go into education …” Elliott says as things got serious between them, “the life of living in the restaurant with that schedule just wasn’t working for family and longterm goals.”

So Elliott also decided to work in the classroom and taught what he knew – culinary arts at the high school level in Jefferson County. “I’d actually never thought about teaching, it was all circumstantial …”

He says it’s funny how life can not only humble you, but bring some realities to light. “As fate would have it, I fell in love with the classroom, and that was it.”

He was able to teach through the Option 6 program, a university-based alternative route to getting certified as a teacher in Kentucky.

“I sat down and asked someone what is the quickest way to get into the classroom …”

Option 6 allows those with degrees in a non-teaching major to pursue teacher certification while working full-time in a Kentucky school.

And being from Harrodsburg, Elliott says all he ever thought about when he was younger was “getting away from here.” Before he worked in Louisville, he was in Atlanta for a while.

“But once we had kids, we wanted to move back to Central Kentucky to be closer to family …” and at that point, he was going to teach culinary arts after finishing up his elementary education degree at Asbury College.

He also did some observations at Woodlawn Elementary. “That was about 12 years ago, so I spent a couple years there and they made me a student teacher …” Elliott then got hired and taught for eight years.

“I fell in love with elementary education. And I cannot say enough about Boyle County Schools – the pedigree and blueprint of what success looks like.”

Elliott says to teach a learner, you have to be a learner yourself. “So I was busy knocking graduate degrees out, then got my education administrator degree,” he says. And two years ago, he had the opportunity to apply for the role of assistant principal at Woodlawn. “I was really encouraged to do it, but I didn’t want to leave the classroom …”

The job was then offered to someone else, who turned it down. “Jennifer Pierson (Woodlawn principle) circled back around to me and asked me again …”

Elliott says after discussions with his family, he reluctantly decided to do it. However, he says he realized after getting into the meat of the job that he was still a teacher.

“My clientele just changed from students to teachers, that’s all …”

He soon fell in love with leading. “And culture building in what I feel is the best school district in the state. I believe in so much of what we do.”

When the opportunity opened up at Junction, Elliott did his homework. “I heard how great it was and the culture and the community, and everyone told me it was a great move.”

Elliott’s wife, Larissa, teaches math at Boyle County High School, and the two of them have five children, from ages 7 to 20, all who attend school in Boyle. “So I would really love to plant somewhere, become part of it and stay.”

He says aside from his wife being a major reason he found a career he loves, she’s also a big part of his success as an administrator. “She keeps me grounded in understanding what the views of teachers look like. Having someone like her to bounce things off – she’s just been instrumental in my success. “

Elliott says he’ll be the first to admit – sometimes education administrators “can see things solely through the administrative looking glass, we get in a lane. So you can lose a little sight of what it’s like to be a teacher, even though we all used to be one.”

So far, Elliott plans no changes from how Shunk operated the school. “My style of leadership is partnership …” and he says he’s fortunate to have Lisa Brown as his assistant principal. “She’s worked there for 18 years, and I already knew her from Woodlawn, so we’re ready to work together.”

Elliott says Shunk really led Junction City Elementary. He says the things that “create heartburn for the first-year administrator” aren’t at Junction City.

“I’m not going into an under-performing school, an understaffed school or a school with high behavior issues …” he says. “It’s well staffed not just with bodies, but with very seasoned, tenured teachers and it’s a high performing school.”