That’s not because he wasn’t a driven student, but because he grew up homeless.
In his opening remarks to the Johnson City Schools board Wednesday night, while interviewing for the position of superintendent of the system, Wallace said he’d sometimes slept in cars, bars and the homes of people he didn’t know at all.
And on the days when school wasn’t open, Wallace wasn’t sure how he would get a meal.
So, he said, he understands what it’s like to be an underserved part of the student population, and particularly wants to help those kinds of children to get the opportunities he had to succeed. One of his goals will be to further develop the alternative school’s options within the system.
Wallace moved to Johnson City in 1991, and even when he worked in Sullivan County, he lived in Johnson City because he said he loves it here.
“I owe Johnson City a lot more than Johnson City owes me,” he said.
Wallace asked Dr. Richard Bales — the man whose seat he’s after — what Wallace’s best characteristic is. Bales told him that he’s a great listener, and that means something in leading a school system.
“People feel heard when they go to talk to you,” Wallace, a long-time school counselor, relayed to the board.
With three children at different levels within the school system and a wife who teaches at Cherokee Elementary School, Wallace said everything he does will impact his life and he feels fully invested in its direction.
“I’m not coming into a bad system,” he said. “We have a great system.”
Bales’ last day will be on July 1, after 12 years as superintendent.
Presenting himself as a well-rounded problem solver already on board with the system’s success, Wallace told the board about his quest to continue Johnson City Schools on the right path.
Asked by board members for an accomplishment he’s proud of, Wallace clarified that a lot of the touchy subjects he deals with constantly — suicide, abuse, homicide threats and more — keep him from giving specifics. But he did point at a recent situation the school system faced, where immunization records were lacking, when he said he help champion an aggressive pursuit of the process of catching Johnson City Schools up to a high standard.
Wallace said he’s unapologetic about making teachers the focal point of his vision, and praised board member Dr. Richard Manahan’s constant efforts to make sure they’re more than adequately compensated for their work.
Board member Kathy Hall asked Wallace about his accessibility to the job at hand.
He didn’t go into detail about a recent late Friday night situation at Science Hill High School, but said he stayed until 11 p.m. to make sure the students involved felt safe and satisfied.
Another time, during a potential threat to the school, Wallace took a call from Johnson City Police Department Chief Mark Sirois at 10 p.m. He made sure Science Hill had extra patrols in the parking lot anyway, despite the fact that he the threat seemed to be downgraded in its seriousness.
Ultimately, Wallace shared his particular philosophy for guiding and overseeing the school system.
“Everything we do in our schools should be intentional,” he said.
That wide-ranging effort would include everything from the way teachers interact with students to the posters and paint on the schools’ walls.
Wallace had great things to say about the person he’d like to follow, presenting himself to the board that will make that decision, as somewhat of a continuation of Bales’ plans and vision.
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Editor’s note: A previous version of this article referred to Wallace’s title incorrectly and has since been corrected to reflect that.