Dr. Jimmy Abraham Gives Keynote Address at Teacher Work Week


During teacher work week, faculty and staff gathered to hear motivating messages from JA speakers and a guest speaker, Dr. Jimmy Abraham. Wright Busching opened the day with a devotional about humility. He offered a quote from noted Christian apologist C.S. Lewis that “there are no ordinary people.” All people are immortal, and we should conduct our interactions with one another with this in mind.

Greg Johnston ’91, Chair of the Jackson Academy Board of Trustees, welcomed faculty and staff to the start of another school year. He shared fond memories of teachers, especially a dean at JA whose kindness made a lasting impact on his life. “Every time I come back to campus, it is special to me,” Johnston said. Faculty and staff represent one of the “most incredible assets we have on this campus. JA is so blessed to have you,” he said.

Vice President and Dean of the School Jack Milne spoke about fostering a culture that is “relentlessly positive.” He stressed the opportunity each faculty and staff member has to demonstrate a caring spirit each day.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Jimmy Abraham, who served Mississippi State University for 38 years in associate vice president roles throughout development, alumni, and student affairs, and as executive director of the university’s alumni association. Several former students who worked as university ambassadors and orientation leaders under Dr. Abraham were in the JA audience and gathered with Dr. Abraham afterward for a photo. Dr. Abraham also mentioned that he and Sherard Shaw graduated from high school the same year, were friends, and played baseball on opposing teams. He recalled stories of the times Coach Shaw had thrown Dr. Abraham all curve balls during a game…three and out.

Dr. Abraham’s message brimmed with guidance from his leadership and personal experiences. He emphasized seizing opportunities to positively influence others, responding well when thrown a curveball, and recognizing the influence of words spoken. He recalled his year as a college freshman in which he did not believe in himself. Encouragers around him would counter his statement, “I can’t do that,” with the positive words, “Yes, you can. I will help you.” He compared people to shrubs that need pruning. With the right attention, they will grow.

JA President Cliff Kling closed the morning by remarking how many of the talks had paralleled one another. He announced that faculty and staff would be given a book to read this year as school faculty. Faculty and staff were also provided a list of 25 suggestions for working at a school from Dr. Abraham.

JA Welcomes New Faculty and Staff


New staff were welcomed to JA and participated in orientation in the Learning Commons the week before school opened. New full-time faculty include Jackye Barbour, PK full day assistant; Sara Bannerman, US English; Jonathan Blackwell, graphic artist; Amanda Cross, K3 half-day teacher; Ali Dinkins, Preschool librarian; Rachel Eason, interactive media coordinator; Ashlee Flechas, K3 half-day teacher; Jennifer Funderburg, K full-day assistant; Megan Logan, MS eighth grade English; Evan McCarley, ARC facilitator, debate coach; Vickie Neal, LS fourth grade teacher; Lance Pogue, varsity football defensive coordinator; Kerri Sanders US theatre; Chevis Taylor, ARC facilitator; Jennifer Wahl, US geometry; Brandt Walker, associate athletic director, Richard West, US science; LaDonna Whitney, LS fourth grade teacher; and Krayleon Winston, JV boys basketball coach, varsity assistant. Staff members joining JA in part-time or contract roles include Annelle Anderson, assistant volleyball coach; Bryan Eubank, sports information director; Datti Jinkiri, part-time soccer coach; and Matthew McMullan, part-time basketball coach.

STAR Teacher Inspires Students to Explore Science and Engineering


Chemistry teacher Richard West-Griffin joins the Jackson Academy faculty this fall and brings with him a garland of Star Teacher honors strung together by his philosophy that “It’s all about the kids.”

West-Griffin’s interest in chemistry began in his pre-teen years with summers spent in school in Naperville, Illinois. At North Central College he was too young to be in the summer program, but enrolled thanks to the guidance of a caring teacher – who was also his godmother. In nearby Chicago, a chemistry set caught his eye.

“Go get it,” she told him. “From that day forward, I just got fascinated with chemistry,” West-Griffin says. By the age of 13 he was studying chemistry and physics, and was completely fired up for science.

His passion for science continues to burn brightly, igniting sparks in his students. “You show excitement and be sincere … and have a passion for it, and the kids will see that” —and they will also draw inspiration from it.

This Star Teacher’s honors could fill a flag. He earned several at Bailey Magnet School in the ‘90s and added seven to his collection while teaching at Clinton High School in the 2000s. The STAR program recognizes students for scholastic excellence, and the teachers those students found most inspirational in their studies.

“I’ve got so many kids now that I taught that are chemical engineers, it’s amazing,” he said, “medical doctors, yeah — all kind of engineers,” says West-Griffin. At Clinton High, he started a biomedical research course as a way to push his brightest students. As a high school teacher West-Griffin “always wanted to deal with those who were preparing themselves for the next level.”

“I’m a teacher first,” says West-Griffin, but he is also a former coach. At Mississippi Valley State University, he coached NFL football great Jerry Rice.

With the birth of his youngest son, Zeke, 15 years ago, “Mama said no more coaching,” he said, chuckling over his wife’s insistence. “She said, ‘I raised the first five, you’re going to raise this one,’ and I said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’”

Outside of class, he’s working on his third degree black belt in Taekwondo. He’s also a minister. “That’s my passion. I draw everything from that,” he said of his faith. He and his wife are involved with several ministries at New Mt. Calvary Christian Center.

“West is “a Mississippi legend,” said Jackson Academy Upper School Dean Steve McCartney. “I was fortunate to work with him in the 1990s at Clinton High School and saw this master at work firsthand. His classroom experience, content expertise and commitment to students has been recognized and celebrated for three decades, but, more importantly, he is a great man.”

“I want to have an impact,” West-Griffin said. “I want to make sure that … we can make an impact on some kids’ lives that may not have had that interest in chemistry or scientific fields, that will fall in love again.”

“We need more medical doctors, we need more research scientists, we need more engineers,” says West-Griffin. He wants students to develop a passion for science as a career. Building on the foundation laid by the STEM programs at JA, this STAR teacher is poised to continue inspiring students to explore the world through the lens of science.

Apple Distinguished School


What is an Apple Distinguished School? This designation is reserved for programs that meet criteria for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence, and demonstrate a clear vision of exemplary learning environments. JA is Mississippi’s first K3-12 school to receive the designation and is part of a small group of schools and colleges worldwide recognized as Apple Distinguished Schools.

“An Apple Distinguished School must provide tangible evidence of academic accomplishment and offer an innovative and compelling learning environment that engages students,” said Cliff Kling, JA president. “Teachers have enhanced the teaching and learning occurring inside and outside of the classroom by incorporating innovative use of technology.”

What is Apple Teacher?

An Apple Teacher has participated in a self‐paced professional development program created to empower and support educators. Apple Teachers provide Multi-Touch Apple Teacher Starter Guides in iBooks for Mac and iPad, so they always have the tools they need to connect with their students. The program is available to all educators and is free for all schools and districts.

In Sandra McKay’s American and English literature classes, being an Apple Distinguished School creates a paperless space where students build skills in creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. “I think the one-to-one program has made us all better teachers,” says McKay. Through this program, our teachers are supported and empowered to educate the leaders of tomorrow with the leading technology of today.

JA Baseball Coach Named to Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame 

Recognizing his baseball career spanning high school, college, and professional competition as well as coaching, a selection committee representing all aspects of Mississippi sports has named Jay Powell a 2017 Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inductee. The official induction ceremony is Saturday, August 5th at the Jackson Convention Complex. Powell is joined by Marcus Dupree, Rick Cleveland, Bob Braddy Sr., Leslie Frazier, and Eugenia Conner (posthumous).

Powell joined the JA coaching staff in 2005 and completed his tenth season as head coach of the JA Raiders baseball team this past year, advancing to the MAIS playoffs. He led the Raiders to a state MAIS title in 2011, prompting the Mississippi Legislature to honor the team with a resolution for an extraordinary season.

Prior to joining the JA coaching staff, Powell pitched in the major leagues for 11 seasons. One of his notable years was 1997 throwing for the Florida Marlins. Over 79.2 innings, Powell made 74 appearances and had a 3.28 ERA, which helped lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series championship. He played for Mississippi State University, where he was the fourth 1st round pick from MSU in the MLB draft, and West Lauderdale High School, where his team earned a state championship.

For additional reading, visit this link to the Sun Herald: