'Best we can be': new Science Hill principal plans positive impact

David Floyd • Updated Jun 7, 2017 at 11:18 PM

Michael “Todd” Barnett understands the significance of positive role models.

“You have certain people who influence you at different points in your life that make a tremendous impact,” Barnett said.

Barnett had several people like that, but one stands out with clear definition: John Orr, one of his high school teachers.

In addition to being his teacher, Orr was also Barnett’s football coach for three years at Cloudland High School in Roan Mountain. After receiving his degree, Barnett eventually worked alongside Orr at the school.

“I can look back at my high school time in Roan Mountain, and I was fortunate to have some really good coaches and teachers who had an influence on me,” he said.

Now almost 54 years old, Barnett has worked at various school systems in the region for about 30 years, and starting on July 1, he will take over as the principal of Science Hill High School, replacing Melanie Riden-Bacon.

Riden-Bacon will continue working at the school as the assistant principal for alternative learning. The 10-year principal announced her resignation last month, citing a desire to spend more time with her family.

In the course of his education career, Barnett worked as a teacher and coach at Cloudland High School from 1987 to 1994 and Unaka High School from 1994 to 1998 before arriving at Science Hill in 1998. In 2003, he became one of the school’s assistant principles.

Now, after almost 15 years in that role, he’s preparing to make another transition, one he’s confident will be smooth. 

“Always, you’re continuously evaluating, looking for ways to improve,” he said. “We’re really, really good in terms of resources and facilities.”

Barnett said once he and the school’s administrative team comes together, they’ll be looking at individual pockets of data to assess trends and isolate certain areas that can be improved.

“I want to look at everything,” Barnett said. “We want to look at academic data, we want to look at performance data in terms of truancy and discipline and everything because you can always make improvements in whatever you’re doing ... The best way to improve is to know where you are and where you’ve been.”

Barnett said Johnson City is already tremendous school system.

“I’ve been here since 1998,” Barnett said, “and I’ve said it many times: In terms of support and resources, I couldn’t imagine a better place to be. We’ll have what we need to be successful, and we have a staff here that is committed to doing everything they can to make each student the best they can be. I know that’s all general, but that’s where we are. We want to be the best we can be in everything we can do.”

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