Each year, my wife and I take a trip to a small community in upstate New York to fish for salmon. The quiet little town of Pulaski, New York, becomes alive with activity during September and October. Twenty- to forty-pound salmon leave the Great Lakes and begin the journey up the Salmon River to spawn eggs in the same location they were born approximately 5 to 7 years ago. This is a fascinating process. I learned that salmon go through a process called imprinting.

When salmon are little, their bodies are introduced to the various conditions of the water in which they are born. They recognize the smell, taste, temperature, etc. of their home waters. After they become large enough, they will leave the small streams and tributaries to migrate toward the oceans or Great Lakes.

The salmon will stay in those larger bodies of water for several years, feeding on smaller fish. Eventually, natural instinct will force the salmon to return to the exact spot of their birth to spawn their own eggs.

Thousands of fish run up the Salmon River in October and it is world-class fishing.

Normally, the fishing can be extremely crowded because so many fisherman are in the river. This is often called combat fishing because you are fishing shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow anglers.

I was fishing one day and became tired of the crowds and began to wade to a more secluded section of the river. Far from the crowds,

I found a spot where nearly a hundred salmon were pooled, waiting to take on the next section of rapids.

I was all alone and had a multitude of fish mere feet away from me. The day was awesome.

The leaves were turning those bright yellows and reds, the sun was setting, the skies were a deep blue, and I was hooking fish on every catch.

It was an epic day! I could have stayed there forever because it was so peaceful and I was living the dream.

As I hooked a fish, I saw a young boy standing on the bank looking at me. I understood that he wanted my spot but was polite enough not to force his way into that section.

I had caught and released several fish at that point and could have stayed there forever; however, I understood it was time for me to leave and allow someone else to take my spot.

It was difficult to leave because those conditions were perfect, but it was time to turn it over to the next angler. I found another location and all was good.

I had this same feeling when I left Auburn Elementary School as a principal. I still loved the students, teachers, and community, but it was time for the next adventure.

I suspect to some degree, this may have been part of Gary Johnson’s feelings when he announced his decision to retire from Morristown Hamblen East High School a few weeks ago.

I know Mr. Johnson cares deeply about that school and his students. Having been there for nearly three decades, he has dedicated much of his professional career to East High.

Mr. Johnson has enjoyed a very successful career there and will be remembered fondly by our community.

When I first arrived in Hamblen County, Mr. Johnson was one of the first people I met. I remember standing with him at a basketball game and being impressed by his knowledge of his students, his families, and the community.

I quickly determined that he possessed a deep passion for what he was doing and that he took considerable pride in East High School. Mr. Johnson has had a tremendous career in Hamblen County, and we wish him the best in this new chapter of his life.

He earned recognition for a number of major accomplishments during his tenure, including Tennessee Principal of the Year. Although he still cares about his school and students, he realized it was time to step out of the “river” and allow someone else to assume that position.

After careful consideration and discussion, we have named Mr. Joseph Ely to be the next principal of East High School. Although he will not officially assume the position of principal until the end of this school year, he is already involved in many of the key decisions.

Mr. Johnson has been working with Mr. Ely over the last few days to help with the transition.

Mr. Ely will make many of the personnel decisions for the upcoming school year because he will be the one held accountable for the high school results. Currently, he is interviewing for key teaching positions, working with the counselors on scheduling, and interviewing for coaches.

Being a high school principal is perhaps the most demanding job in all of public school education. It has constant stress, and difficult decisions are required all the time.

Every decision is questioned by students, staff, the community, and central office.

Making the right decision is not always the most popular decision, and the demands of that job are incredible.

Mr. Ely knows these demands and has eagerly accepted those responsibilities. We are excited about his tenure as East High’s principal and we look forward to his leadership there. We are confident that he will experience a great deal of success.

We also realize that this decision will impact the entire community.

It is important that parents and students have the opportunity to meet with Mr. Ely and to share thoughts and ideas with him as he begins this new job.

We have scheduled an evening for the community to meet the new principal on April 22. We will start the meeting at 6:00 p.m. in the East High Auditorium.

We will introduce Mr. Ely and ask him to share his thoughts and vision for the school.

We will also provide an opportunity for students and the community to ask questions and share thoughts on what they believe is important to the success of the school.

We invite all students and the community to attend this meeting.

During the interview process, we stressed to all candidates that we wanted to see a few priorities addressed with the new principal.

First, we are asking Mr. Ely to focus on the academic program and to improve student achievement. Mr. Johnson has developed a strong foundation for this, and we fully expect to see positive results with Mr. Ely’s leadership.

This would involve academic achievement measures in all areas, as we want to see progress in both our general program and in our honors program.

Academic achievement and excellence will be the main priority for Mr. Ely’s tenure.

Second, we want Mr. Ely to collaboratively develop a common vision and direction for the school. We want him to involve all stakeholders and create that sense of purpose and direction that will ensure students are successful in whatever path they chose after high school. Running a high school is extremely challenging.

We need to make sure everyone is aware of the direction we are going, that they are invested in that direction, and that they have access to the resources needed to reach the destination we have mutually agreed upon. Having a shared mission is extremely important to any school.

Third, we have asked Mr. Ely to focus on improving communication and the sense of team throughout the school. We want him to ensure that all staff members, students, parents, and the community are well informed of important school initiatives. In addition, it is critical that all areas of the school, including administration and staff, work together as one team to ensure success.

Having effective communication skills, both listening and verbally articulating a message, are critical to this endeavor. Effective short- and long-term planning are critical to this priority.

Fourth, we have asked Mr. Ely to work on the school’s early postsecondary opportunities.

We want him to improve the Advancement Placement program, the dual enrollment opportunities, and industry certifications. We want to make sure that all students have access to postsecondary opportunities during high school to give them an early start to success before graduation.

President Lyndon Johnson once stated that, if he had the capability to walk across the Potomac River, the general public wouldn’t acknowledge this accomplishment but would instead say that he couldn’t even swim. Being a high school principal is much like that.

It will be difficult to please everyone, but we are confident that Mr. Ely is bringing the necessary skill set to be a highly effective high school principal.

As I experienced the need to move on from that fishing location several years ago, Gary Johnson has decided to move on upstream and allow another to shoulder the mantle of responsibility as principal of East High School.

We sincerely appreciate his leadership and wish him nothing but the very best in all endeavors.

He will always be part of the Hamblen County Schools family, and I hope the school district will be part of what he considers home.

It is now time for Mr. Ely to wade into the river and apply his skills to the task.

We are confident that he will be successful and be able to move the school forward. Thank you for your attention to this article. Remember: School Matters!

--Jeff Perry, Superintendent Hamblen County Schools