Sammy Sullivan's new job is a long way from a few decades ago, when he dropped out of school at 15.
Sullivan, the new principal of Northeast Lauderdale High School, succeeds Tim Moore, who is now the Lauderdale County School District’s athletic and transportation director. Sullivan's first day was July 1.
'I was terrified if I would be able to do it'
After dropping out, the Newton County native worked odd jobs, then got his GED so he could join the Air Force. After traveling the world, Sullivan returned home and joined the Mississippi Army National Guard while doing construction on the side. All told, he served his country for 22 years.
While working in construction, Sullivan started thinking about his long term plans. He wanted a job that had retirement benefits, so going into education was his best choice, he said.
“I started to look at education and all the options I had," Sullivan recalled. "Come to find out, education something I was good at."
Sullivan took his first teaching job in 1999. Having no previous teaching experience, he was nervous about becoming an educator.
“I was terrified if I would be able to do it,” he recalled.
But he soon realized that being in the military and working at a school are similar, because they both involve teamwork and showing people how to do things.
“I had been teaching for a long time, and I didn’t even know it,” Sullivan recalled.
Sullivan got his bachelor's and master's degrees at Mississippi State University, where he also earned a specialist certification. At MSU, he's working on his doctoral dissertation in curriculum and instruction.
“I went from a high school dropout to getting the highest degree you can get," he said.
Sullivan has worked in Clarksdale, Meridian and Lowndes County, where he most recently served 10 years at New Hope High School. He's held a variety of roles, from bus driver, janitor, groundskeeper, athletic director and administrator.
Lauderdale County Schools Superintendent John-Mark Cain noted Sullivan's experience in the military and other roles as choosing him to lead the school.
"Mr. Sullivan's success story, decorated military career, and work history in education make him a great fit for NEHS," Cain said in an email.
Power of the pronoun
Sullivan said he has several goals during his first few weeks at Northeast. One focus will be an emphasis on teamwork.
“My goal is to use the power of the pronoun – and go from me and my at this school to our and we,” Sullivan said.
For the short term, Sullivan plans to get to know the students, staff, faculty, and members of the Northeast High School community so that he can become part of their family.
Sullivan said he also expects students to become active in the community and to create a sense of ownership of the school. He also plans to look at what's working and not working at the school, by making small adjustments to help the school grow.
“I want the teachers to know they are appreciated, and their voices are heard,” he said.
Sullivan said a long-term goal is that he wants to help bring the accountability rating up at the school, help to increase the graduation rate, increase higher test scores and student for a career or college once they graduate from high school.
Looking back at his past, Sullivan hopes his students learn from his story. If he hadn't dropped out of school, he could have become a teacher much sooner. .
“I would have finished school and started this career earlier," he said. "But this has been a blessing."
And even though his career in education started later than most, he's humbled with the opportunity to lead Northeast High School.
“We wake up every day, knowing that somewhere, someway, we are making a difference in someone’s life,” he said.