With his first assistant principalship, Justin Lunsford wanted a change and he got it. He went from being a math teacher at two city schools, Hickory High School and Hickory Career and Arts Magnet School, to rural West Lincoln Middle School, replacing Ann Cesena, who retired.
“I started putting feelers out about AP jobs in the area,” he said. “I met with my superintendent in Hickory, which is a small district, and told him that I was going to be looking and asked him to let me know if he had anything. He said he’d take care of me if he could.”
Unfortunately, a month later the superintendent told him that he didn’t think anyone was going to move. The interview at West Lincoln Middle was Lunsford’s first interview for an AP position. He also interviewed at Lincoln Middle School, but West Lincoln was more along the lines of what he was looking for in a change of environment.
“As I did some research about the area, the demographics and all, I realized that it was very different from Hickory but it was very similar to where I grew up,” he said. “I grew up Black Mountain, Swannanoa area. All of my family is from Leicester which is just outside Asheville. It feels like coming home.”
Lunsford attended Lenoir-Rhyne University for his bachelor’s degree and recently graduated from Gardner Webb University with his master’s in administration. He plans to remain living in Hickory as his wife, who is pregnant with their first child, is also in a new assistant principal position with Catawba County Schools.
The decision to go on to obtain a master’s degree came from Lunsford’s realization that he enjoyed working with children who dealt with things at home that he didn’t growing up or who had difficulties with paying attention or getting into trouble.
“I knew that when you stepped into administration, that’s mostly who you see and that’s who mostly who you get to impact and work with,” he said. “Both Hickory schools were small and it really was like a family atmosphere. That’s one thing I would say about here, it’s still family. You feel that love for kids here. If I didn’t have that I don’t know if I could stay in education.”
One of the biggest changes Lunsford said he’s experienced is jumping from high school to middle school.
“When I was at Hickory High School and kids would get in trouble, I expected a certain attitude and to be cussed out,” he said. “Here I’ve had to discipline a couple of kids already. When they come in, they’re kids and they’ve broken down and cried. I’m not used to that. I’m not used to the tender side of middle schoolers. It’s so nice that it’s still there.”
One side of Lunsford’s office is decorated with super hero posters and he tends to wear “loud and crazy” shirts and ties.
“I’m really a big kid at heart and it’s kind of nice getting back to the roots of kids,” he said. “I was afraid when stepping into the role of AP, I was going to not be able to interact with kids. It’s surprised me how much I’ve been able to interact with them.”
Given he was formerly a math teacher, Lunsford plans to focus on that skill in students at West Lincoln Middle.
“My goals are to work with math teachers and get some innovative strategies in the classrooms,” he said. “Not that they aren’t already happening, but to strengthen them. I’ve been a presenter at the state math conference for the past six years. I’m presenting again this year. I’m around the math community and know where math education is going. I want to do my best to incorporate some of these things into these math classrooms. Get kids out of seats, get them out of rows, take them outside every now and then and show them some applications for math rather than just what’s in the textbooks.”