Polk County High School principal and Lee University alumnus Jason Bell recently completed his doctorate degree through Liberty University.
Bell will officially graduate in May with a doctorate in educational leadership. The dissertation was the completion of two and a half years of work. The high school principal defended his dissertation in late February.
Bell said his dissertation topic was “the role of an after-school program on students graduating from high school.”
Bell said he focused on qualitative research.
“I’m not a numbers guy. Really I’m a words guy,” Bell said. “I wanted to actually talk to kids and find out for myself.”
Before becoming principal, Bell taught English at Polk County High School.
Bell said he presented before a panel of faculty members for about 30 minutes. The audience then asked questions of clarification.
“Honestly, when you get to that point, there shouldn’t be any trepidation or worry, but you always worry that they are going to come pull you out and say, ‘That was terrible,’” Bell said.
Research for the dissertation was compiled through interviews with high school students and graduates who had participated in an after-school program.
“I have always been interested in graduation rates and students dropping out of high school and how to keep them in school,” Bell said.
“I determined very early in my teaching career that if you formed a relationship with a kid that really seemed to have an impact on how they did in your class.”
Students interviewed did not attend Polk County High School.
A state grant has made it possible for PCHS to have an after-school program, “which is actually kind of rare for a high school,” he said.
“It’s given us a lot of flexibility with things that are fun that you don’t get to put into the school day, especially at a smaller school, because you just don’t have the room to offer the mass of electives that some of the bigger schools do,” Bell said.
Bell received his master’s degree and a specialist degree in administration through Lincoln Memorial University.
“I’m a life-long learner,” Bell said.
He completed his bachelor’s degree at Lee University in 2001.
“I come from a family of educators,” Bell said.
When deciding on a career, Bell at first wanted to do something else.
“I just kept being called back to what I was supposed to do,” Bell said.
Bell has spent his entire career at PCHS. He taught English for seven years before becoming the assistant principal for a year. Bell has been principal for four years.
The school recently honored the principal with a surprise party to honor his accomplishment.
The principal said he had been called to the central office, supposedly for a meeting with a parent and the director of schools. The parent never showed up. But when Bell got back to school, a faculty member started a conversation with him and lead him to the library, where a cake and well-wishing friends were waiting.
Bell said PCHS is very much like a family. There are only seven or eight school employees who have been there longer than he has, Bell said.
Bell is also a board member of the Tennessee Rural Education Association, which advocates for rural school systems.