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UCPS principal left lasting impression on new Sun Valley Middle teacher

Maxie and Jayy Twelve years ago, Jayy Pierre was a Shiloh Elementary student in Maxie Johnson’s fifth grade class.

Neither he nor Johnson knew it at the time, but that year was a pivotal moment in Pierre’s life that would completely change the trajectory of his future. The lessons he learned – both academically and personally – had such a strong impact on the young 10-year-old that he carried them with him throughout his entire time in middle school, high school and college.

Now, Pierre is back in his home community as the newest Sun Valley Middle health teacher and Sun Valley High head cross country and track and field coach.

He’s no longer the rambunctious young student he once was, Pierre says with a chuckle, and is passionate about positively influencing current and future students -- much like his fifth grade teacher did for him more than a decade ago.

“I wanted to become an educator because of Mr. Johnson. He didn’t give up on me. I used to hear that I wouldn’t amount to anything, that I wouldn’t graduate high school or make it to college – but I’ve done it now,” he said. “That’s the reason why I wanted to become a teacher and that’s why I came back to Sun Valley -- I know that I can inspire someone else.”

As Johnson and Pierre sat side by side in the Sun Valley Middle conference room, the walls echoed as the teacher and principal laughed and recounted stories from the 2007-08 school year.

That was Johnson’s first year with UCPS, and he remembers specifically asking then-principal Dr. Mike Henderson for a class of students who needed additional behavioral or academic guidance.

Pierre was one of those students.

“I felt like they needed to have a teacher who would be passionate and would get them all moving in the right direction. I remember watching Jayy grow in that classroom and become such a motivator for the other students,” Johnson said.

In that classroom, Johnson said he pushed the students every day to reach higher and achieve more than they ever thought they could, both academically and behaviorally. Pierre also said Johnson was his first African-American male teacher and served as a role model for many of the students in the class.

"He talked to us about changing statistics and stigmas and he really just empowered us," Pierre said. "I was a smart kid but I would get bored quickly. In fifth grade, we couldn't wait to come to Mr. Johnson's class every single day."

In fact, long after Pierre left Johnson’s classroom, he constantly remembered phrases motivational phrases from his fifth grade year: You can Achieve, Never Aim for Mediocrity, etc.

“That’s exactly what I kept doing in middle school, in high school and in college. By the time I was a sophomore in college, I knew that I wanted to be an educator and pass that along to other students,” Pierre said.

When asked why he made the decision to return to his hometown as an educator, Pierre said it was a no-brainer. He grew up in Sun Valley and is still embedded in and passionate about the community. 

“Sometimes, you’ll hear people talk about changing the culture. I don’t believe in changing culture because the Sun Valley community has an amazing culture. I know what we can be and I know what we will be and I want to change whatever stigmas that are out there,” he said.

At only a few weeks into the school year, Pierre is hard at work forging relationships with students. He’s also spent countless hours working with staff to tweak the curriculum for his health class and the high school’s track and field program to better connect with students.

As Pierre talks about his plans for the year, Johnson said moments like this – when you have the opportunity to see former students succeed, grow and give back – are when you have the opportunity to see the full impact of his profession.

“It just warms my heart and feels great to know that former students like him and others have that passion to come back and make a difference in their community. It just makes the community stronger and I love it,” Johnson said. “He is here and he’s got this. These students are in great hands and I know that the best is yet to come.”

At the end of the day, Pierre says his goal is to positively impact as many students as he can. He knows firsthand what it feels like to have a teacher invest themselves in him, and he wakes up every morning passionate about guiding as many students in the right direction as he can.

“If it weren’t for Mr. Johnson, I would have gone down the wrong path. That year completely changed my life,” he said. “Mr. Johnson saw something in me, and I’m trying to pay that forward with students now. When students leave here I want them to know that even if people write them off, they can be as successful as they know they can be.”

Posted: Sept. 12, 2019