By Amanda Memrick
As the bell rings, students flood the hallways of Ashbrook High School, making their way to the next class. In the middle of that sea of students stands Ashbrook High Principal Joey Clinton. “My philosophy’s always been to be visible, especially in this role,” Clinton said. “And I think this has helped garner some success in this school.”
Ashbrook, one of the largest and most diverse schools in Gaston County, has seen success in boosting the number of students who graduate in four years or less to 90.3 percent for the last school year. “We really pushed to create a culture of acceptance. It doesn’t matter who you are. We want you to come to this school. This is a level playing ground. Getting an education, earning a diploma, everybody’s equal. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like, who you are,” Clinton said. “You have a lot to do with your success.” That success is one reason Gaston County Schools leaders chose Clinton to be Principal of the Year. Clinton grew up in York, S.C., in a family of educators.
Clinton knew in high school and college that he wanted to become a coach. He played sports in high school and coached there as a college student at Winthrop University. After graduating with a degree in physical education, he applied for a jobs at neighboring school systems, including Gaston County. The day before school started, Clinton received a call offering him a position at Highland Junior High School. “I can recall that first day of school, I was teaching health and physical science, and I remember just whipping through like four or five chapters because I was so nervous, and I didn’t want any down time,” Clinton said. “That first year was a great learning experience.”
That was 1993. Clinton continued to teach and coach sports, though he knew he wanted more. “I knew I wanted to be in that leadership role,” Clinton said. “I wanted to make a larger impact.” He decided to get a master’s degree in school administration from Gardner-Webb University to become an administrator. He started as an assistant principal at Forestview High, then moved to Grier Middle. He became principal at
Grier before coming to Ashbrook in 2011.
Clinton likes a routine and keeps a to-do list, but he never knows what the day will bring at a school with 1,500 and 130 staff members. Being flexible is key, he said, because the main focus has to be kids and instruction. Clinton’s philosophy as a principal is on servant leadership. He won’t ask a staff member to do something he won’t do. “There’s a lot of days I sweep the floors between classes,” he said.
Getting to know the students and being a part of their lives is the best part of the job. That’s why he’s outside the school in mornings, in the hallways during class changes and in the cafeteria during lunch. He wants students to see him and not be afraid to approach him.
Nearly all of his 22 years in education have been in schools that feed into Ashbrook. He sees students he used to teach, and in some cases, he’s taught their parents.
Clinton wants to continue climbing the career ladder. He’d like to become superintendent of a school system. “That’s what I want to do. That’s the track I want to do,” Clinton said. “I want to move on because I want to make an impact.”
Clinton lives in Filbert, S.C., about 25 minutes away. When he’s not overseeing Ashbrook, Clinton spends time working on the 200-acre farm where he was born and raised. Clinton took charge of the farm work after his father died while Clinton was in college. The farm has about 50 to 60 beef cattle and a few chickens. His nephews raise pigs and show them for 4-H. Farm life keeps him grounded. “You grab a set of post hole diggers, I’m mean that’s work. And I enjoy it,” Clinton said. “It’s been a part of who I am all my life.”