Kelloggsville — What James Alston most enjoys about being an educator is interacting with students and getting them thinking about their futures.
“I love just talking with them – figuring out what makes them tick. Figuring out what they want to do after high school, whether it’s going into the workforce, going to college, learning a trade or taking some time off to travel,” he said. “Let them know there are options out there…Let’s find a pathway and a way to get there.”
The former high-school principal sees serving as the new superintendent of Kelloggsville Public Schools as helping students on a larger scale.
“That’s how I justify being away from the students; it’s trying to have a bigger impact for all the students as opposed to just one building.”
Alston replaces longtime Superintendent Sam Wright, who retired June 30 after two stints as superintendent over two decades. Like Wright, Alston is an example of someone who is devoted to the small community with the schools at its core.
He said he plans to be present – stopping into schools, having conversations, attending events and celebrations. “I will go to as many as I can. I still know the kids at the high school from having worked over there. I have a relationship with a lot of those students.”
Presence & Approachability
Alston’s tenure in the district started 16 years ago as a middle-school math teacher. In 2009, he began working as an assistant principal at the high school. Over the years, he served as assistant principal and principal (at different times) at the high school, middle school and the alternative high school, 54th Street Academy. He also coached middle-school boys and girls basketball, and middle, junior varsity and varsity school volleyball.
Staff members said they appreciate Alston’s presence and approachability.
“Jim brings a fresh leadership style and vision to the district,” said Aline Le, high-school math and science teacher. “He leads with strength and poise, but has the biggest heart for his staff and more importantly, the students.
“Even in his new role, he’s already been visiting buildings to be around the students and visit with staff members, sharing his great sense of humor. I think that’s what makes Jim so special and different. Everyone respects him, but he is still personable and humble. We miss him at the high school, but we’re happy the bright future of the district is in his hands.”
High-school teacher Lisa Corrigan said Alston is “full of charisma, and has the ability to attract the attention of everyone in the room. He builds relationships with staff members and makes us feel important, valued and good about what we do in our classrooms. He’s confident and willing to do whatever needs to be done.”
Said middle-school teacher Kelly Hammontree, “Jim brings an undeniable sense of humanity to Kelloggsville. As a teacher, he set the bar high for both his students and peers, motivating them to strive to be better than they were the day before. As a leader, Jim is down-to-earth and easy to talk to, valuing the importance of relationship building and naturally putting people at ease.
‘The central part of this district is the school. That’s what makes the community special. I love and always loved working here. I can’t imagine working anywhere else, quite honestly.’– Superintendent James Alston
“His growth mindset allows him to not only continuously develop his own skills, but genuinely invest in the growth of others. Jim has the gift of cultivating joy in those around him, and his leadership is a gift to the Kelloggsville community.”
What it Means to be a Rocket
Being from Kelloggsville is synonymous with being a Rocket and Alston is among students, staff and community members who know that.
“Kelloggsville is a very unique district,” he said. “There’s not a city of Kelloggsville — you’re smack dab in the middle of Wyoming and Kentwood. The central part of this district is the school. That’s what makes the community special.
“I love and always loved working here. I can’t imagine working anywhere else, quite honestly.”
Alston, originally from Monroe, Michigan, graduated from Aquinas College and received his master’s in educational leadership at Grand Valley State University. Now, he’s a few classes away from an educational specialist degree. His wife, Kim Alston, is an elementary teacher in West Ottawa Public Schools. They have three teenage children.
Alston said he was inspired by a middle-school math teacher to become a teacher himself. “There was a student who sat next to me. We would always compare test scores and try to beat each other. He encouraged that competition rather than trying to stop it … I wouldn’t have had as good of a score in that class without that competition.”
As a math teacher, Alston worked to spark competitiveness in students. “You try to find that motivation where you can get it. You find that competition, that excitement.”
Setting, Meeting Goals
His goals include continuing to motivate students and staff. “We need to raise test scores and make sure that’s at the forefront,” he said.
Achievement gaps in the district widened during the pandemic in the district, but also in comparison to more affluent districts. He’s working to make up ground and help students succeed.
“We are really being intentional to make sure data is available to staff, teachers, principals and even to students. If you can put the data from their own test scores in front of them and say, ‘This is how you did last year. Maybe you can do better,’ that gives them ownership.”
District operational goals include completing projects funded by the $11.3 million bond proposal passed in 2021, including a new athletic complex in its finishing stages; a STEM building at the high school, renovations at Southeast Elementary and technology upgrades.
‘Even in his new role, he’s already been visiting buildings to be around the students and visit with staff members, sharing his great sense of humor… Everyone respects him, but he is still personable and humble. We miss him at the high school, but we’re happy the bright future of the district is in his hands.’– Aline Le, teacher
Another goal is to continue work with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, which includes staff members and students leading others in DEI initiatives. A focus is having students and staff members share their stories and have meaningful conversations.
Because he’s such a familiar face in the district, during school visits staff are comfortable with starting conversations, giving hugs, talking about their day. That brings a nice ease to everyone, said Southeast Elementary Principal Jeremy Palmitier.
“Being a Rocket, Jim portrays what it means to be in the Kelloggsville district. He exemplifies it.”