Two summers ago, Jason Jowers left Durham Public Schools to lead Global Scholars Academy, a local charter school.
As Jowers, a rising star in the district, closed the door on his principal tenure at Fayetteville Street Elementary School, he sang the praises of charter schools, noting the freedom and flexibility they give educators.
“It fails, it doesn’t work,” Jowers said about the traditional approach to helping children in low-performing schools. “You have to think outside the box and allow educators to be innovative.”
Jowers, who took several Fayetteville Street teachers with him to Global Scholars, still believes educators need freedom and flexibility.
But he will return to DPS next week as principal of Eno Valley Elementary School, where students struggle academically and desperately need new strategies.
Jowers said a "personal family matter" made it more practical to return to DPS.
"I was in need of a much different kind of schedule," Jowers said. "The Global Scholars schedule was not conducive to the things I had going on."
Also, Jowers said he talked briefly with new Superintendent Pascal Mubenga during one of Mubenga's town hall meetings on creating a new strategic plan for the district.
Jowers, who will earn $105,000 a year, said he liked what he heard and, after consulting with DPS staffers, friends and mentors, applied for the job at Eno Valley when it became open.
"It was really tough leaving with all of the success we've had," Jowers said.
In his first year at Global Scholars, students' proficiency on state end-of-grade test at the small, K-8 school jumped 17 percentage points. Jowers said the most recent round of state tests will also show gains, but smaller than those achieved during his first year.
Announcing his return, Nakia Hardy, deputy superintendent for academic services, said DPS is glad to welcome Jowers back.
“We know Eno Valley families are going to be thrilled with his energy, creativity and determination," Hardy said.
Jowers will have his work cut out for him at Eno Valley, a school where 86.7 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. Across North Carolina's public schools, 49.2 percents of are considered economically disadvantaged.
Eno Valley received a state performance grade of "F" last year, and grade-level proficiency in reading, math and science fell below the district and state averages.
Jowers said the first order of business is to dig into the data at Eno Valley to determine the greatest needs.
He said much of the success at Global Scholars was due to teachers buying into the strategies developed to improve student achievement.
"We just got tremendous buy-in from the staff," Jowers said. "Teachers also felt comfortable enough to tell me when they thought things weren't working."
In his two years away from DPS, the former Durham Public Schools Teacher of the Year and the 2015 N.C. Assistant Principal of the Year, said he learned a lot, particularly about the perceived freedoms granted charter operators.
"The one thing I learned about charter schools is that they are still public schools, and while there is some freedom, there are other sacrifices you have to make in return for that freedom," Jowers said.
One of those sacrifices was giving up the convenience of a central office, which handled many operational matters Jowers had to attend to as head of school at Global Scholars.
"I was the central office," Jowers said. "I definitely have greater appreciation for the role of a central office now."
If there is one regret he has about leaving DPS two years ago, it is taking so many of Fayetteville Street's teachers with him to Global Scholars. The move left DPS scrambling to fill the positions over the summer.
"If I could do it over, I don't think I would take that same approach," he said.