When he steps out of his office, J.D. Faulconer is almost immediately surrounded by students offering fist bumps and asking for snacks.

He’s only been the principal of Dr. Paul L. Kelley Volunteer Academy (KVA) since the summer, but has already built a great reputation with students.

KVA is a non-traditional high school for seniors needing to make up credits to graduate.

“You’re getting to know kids, and you’re quickly forming that bond and relationship with them,” Faulconer said. “Then the next day they ring that bell and they’re done. It’s tough sometimes, but it’s all for the kids.”

Faulconer said a lot of the students who enter the school have not had good experiences in the principal’s office, and he aims to change that viewpoint.

“We try to create a culture in a small amount of time where kids feel loved, protected, respected, and taken care of,” he said. “I want them to realize this isn’t the place where you come just when you’re in trouble, but this is a place where you come when you’re hungry or you need someone to talk to.”

This experience in an administrative role comes from over a dozen years in a school building.

He became a special education teacher in Anderson County where he first ventured into administration at elementary and middle schools. When he accepted a position as a high school principal in Corbin, Kentucky, he began a stretch of three years commuting about three hours to and from Anderson County each day.

“I spent many nights sleeping in my office because I couldn’t get over Jellico Mountain in the snow,” Faulconer said. “But we made it work. Then almost overnight I accepted a job in Knox County to open Career Magnet Academy.”

Ever since that first day in a classroom, Faulconer has remembered why he entered this profession in the first place, and no matter where he ends up within the educational system, he’ll always keep those values close to heart.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t start in public education to sit in a principal seat. We started to make an impact on kids, and we don’t forget that,” he said. “That’s what we’re driven by every single day.”

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