Bland Succeeds With ‘Servant Leadership’
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Bland Succeeds With ‘Servant Leadership’

One of the youngest Atlanta Public Schools principals describes his journey through local Jewish day schools, Camp Barney, coaching, teaching and school administration.

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Jay Bland is principal of Morris Brandon Elementary School in Buckhead.
Jay Bland is principal of Morris Brandon Elementary School in Buckhead.

Principal Jacob “Jay” Bland’s educational path began at The Epstein School, Yeshiva Atlanta, then on to Druid Hills High School. He became a bar mitzvah at Congregation B’nai Torah and taught Sunday school at The Temple. Along the way he earned the honor of Eagle Scout.

The University of South Carolina filled in his physical education degree. Add on a masters from Georgia State University and a specialist degree from Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee in curriculum and instruction.

One of his biggest influences on this principal of Morris Brandon Elementary School in Buckhead was spending 17 summers at Camp Barney Medintz. He was on staff for seven years there, primarily heading the nature unit and getting a firsthand feel for teaching and learning. Mother Gail Gellman set a high bar by serving as principal at several Atlanta Public Schools.

Bland revealed, “My first love was coaching boys’ soccer at Sutton Middle School. We had success winning city championships. I culminated my coaching career as the varsity soccer coach at North Atlanta High School. During those eight years, I made a commitment to taking on many leadership roles. Along the way, I had several principals as mentors, and I began interviewing for leadership positions within APS.” There were steps backwards and forward. At 32, Bland began applying for assistant principal positions like the spot at Sutton. He said, “I didn’t get that job, but everything happens for a reason. I began to look outside of middle school and was able to get my foot in the door at highly sought-after Morningside Elementary, a high achieving school with a storied history within the [APS] Grady Cluster. I interviewed with their leadership team, which took a chance on me!”

Jay Bland is one of the youngest Atlanta Public Schools principals. He follows the path of his mother, who was principal at several.

Three years later, Bland became the principal at Morris Brandon Elementary School and became one of the youngest APS principals after going through the revised interview GO Teams process. The interview panel consisted of parents, teachers and community members.

“Before I had a chance to meet the GO Team, I had to make it into the principal pool making me eligible for hire. The final step was interviewing with the superintendent who offered me the job on an interim basis. After only six months, I was made permanent! I had a phenomenal first year and was able to hire a new leadership team, as principals do not work in isolation. Nothing meaningful could ever get accomplished without the team with which I surrounded myself.”

What constitutes building a leadership profile? Jay refers to his style of “servant” leadership by declaring, “I concentrate on being adaptive, flexible and making teachers understand that I work FOR them. The APS published a leadership profile, which includes building cultures, developing talent, managing operations and leading academics. Other components are being fearless, inspirational and innovative with the hope that students and staff reach their highest potential.” Bland recalls having to take a “deep dive” into vetting materials, analyzing data and test scores, assessing learning gaps and community needs.

There are roughly 50,000 students in the APS system compared to 100,000 in the DeKalb School System. Morris Brandon has 940 students with a wide range of learning needs. Brandon’s breakdown: caucasian, 65 percent, Hispanic 17 percent, Black, 7.5 percent and 10 percent have a disability.

Bland said, “APS is an amazing school system. We faced nearly every imaginable obstacle [reference the cheating scandal]. Approximately 70 percent of APS students live in poverty. The pandemic has brought out the inequities.

“My early Judaic training leads me to derech eretz, taking the right path to tikkun olam. Being a parent in this current atmosphere has given me a new perspective and empathy for what students, parents and teachers face, especially in virtual learning.”

Bland and wife Leslie have two children, ages 3 and 5. He said, “Ninety percent of my time outside of school is family time. Other than that, you can find me exercising at 5 a.m., or camping and hiking or hanging with friends.”

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