By Annie Rhoades
A career in education can encompass a variety of jobs including teaching, leadership and even government relations. Alumnus Jason Lewis Walton (BA 96, MEd 99), newly elected head of school for Jackson Preparatory School, can count all three and more.
A native of Hernando, Walton graduated from Hernando High School in 1992 and enrolled at Northwest Community College in the fall as a political science major.
A fourth generation educator, Walton was set on following a different path and making his mark in an alternate field of study.
“I was really trying hard to not be in education,” said Walton. “My family going back four generations has been part of the educational scene in the state, and I was very consciously trying to not do that. But I ended up circling back to it and just loving it.”
Walton transferred to Ole Miss at the start of his junior year in 1994.
“I always knew I was going to be a Rebel,” said Walton. “On Saturdays everybody’s in the Grove. I just really got swept up in the atmosphere that makes everybody enjoy the university so much.”
Walton enjoyed his undergraduate studies and fondly recalls professors that influenced him along the way during his early days at Ole Miss.
“Marvin Overby was part of the political science crowd at that time, and I remember taking Politics of the American South from him in the room at the top of Barnard Observatory,” said Walton. “Hearing him talk about Earl and Merle Black and politics of the American South really opened your eyes to just how big the world is and the things that are interesting in it. Also Dr. Vaughn Grisham, who is a retired sociology professor, was just a very passionate teacher with deep research interest in communities and what makes them work well. It was just a fun scene to be a part of and was everything an undergraduate experience is supposed to be.”
After completing his undergraduate studies in 1996, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in education.
“I got a call from my high school principal, Theron Long (MEd 69), and he knew that I was coming out of undergrad and was looking for a teacher to fill a vacancy in English,” said Walton. “He encouraged me to get certified to teach via the alternate route, and so that’s what I did for the next four years.”
The masters program, designed for mid-career professionals who were aspiring principals, allowed Walton to teach within the Desoto County School System while completing his degree.
After receiving his master’s degree in 1999, Walton decided to further his education and enrolled at Vanderbilt University in the fall of 2000 to pursue a doctoral degree.
“I started as a part-time student and got the attention of the then department chair, James Guthrie, who invited me to become a full-time student. So I relocated to Nashville.”
During his time at Vanderbilt, Walton became involved in state government relations, serving as assistant director to the Office of Research and Accountability for the State of Tennessee by providing nonpartisan, objective analysis of education policy issues for the Comptroller, Tennessee General Assembly, other state agencies and the public.
While the position provided invaluable experience, Walton was soon offered a job at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., that was too good to pass up.
“I was recruited to Lynn by a fellow classmate at Vanderbilt who was being groomed to be the president there,” said Walton. “He asked if I would be his chief of staff. After asking two or three times I said, ‘I tell you what I’ll get on a plane and come look at it.’”
A K-12 professional by training, Walton initially didn’t see a life for himself in a university setting.
“I got down there and saw how beautiful it was and thought I can settle into this,” Walton laughed.
He began at Lynn as director of strategic initiatives in 2005 and quickly moved up to chief of staff in 2006.
After eight years with the university, Walton began looking for something new.
“I had pretty much done everything I had come to Lynn to do, and I was looking around for what was next,” said Walton. “I was a K-12 guy who ended up in higher education, so I started looking at opportunities in K-12 and opportunities to come back home to Mississippi – to contribute to the place where I was raised.”
Early in his search, he learned about the position at Jackson Preparatory School.
“I learned they were searching for a head of school and put in a letter expressing my interest,” said Walton. “I kept making my way forward in the process and eventually received the offer. It’s all very exciting, and my wife and I are just over the moon to be coming home in July.”
Walton eagerly awaits settling into his new position as head of school and the opportunity to make a long-term contribution to the institution.
“I had an amazing opportunity very early in my career to serve as chief of staff at a university,” said Walton. “I’m almost positive I didn’t deserve it, so I tried to run out the door and earn it everyday. The opportunity to serve in leadership at a young age has been a big advantage. I’m grateful and humbled for the opportunity to come back home to Mississippi and be at a place with a stellar reputation like Jackson Prep.”