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New Principal brings excitement for learning to Benson Middle

Dana Jernigan Dana Jernigan wants people to know she loves school. So much so, she’s spent most of her life either in it or working for one.

“My first six years of teaching are the only time since kindergarten that I've not been in school,” said Jernigan. “I've been in school a long time, and I love learning.”

The Sampson County native initially wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after college. Jernigan was an English major at North Carolina State University and decided to take a few education classes after meeting with an adviser. It wasn’t until after student teaching at South Johnston High School that she fell in love with the profession.

“It's a people career, and I enjoy being with my PLC (Professional Learning Community) and fellow teachers,” she said. “I also enjoy being with kids and meeting the parents. It's never the same day twice. There's always something to learn, problems to solve, and opportunities to serve.”

Jernigan was soon hired as an English teacher at SJHS where she sought to share her passion for literature with her students. She quickly learned there was more to teaching.

“It was more about the relationships with kids and helping them in high school. There are some kids that are just trying to figure out what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives,” said Jernigan. “I discovered that building relationships, and helping them to be successful and graduate is what’s most important.”

Helping kids find their path in life motivated Jernigan to take on a larger role, so she became an assistant principal intern at SJHS and was later hired for the position.

After a few years as an AP at SJHS, Jernigan moved to the district office where she served in a variety of roles before becoming Executive Director of Secondary Education.

“When I stepped into the role, I started working a lot more closely with principals. In doing that, I realized how much I really missed the school building,” said Jernigan. “Being with the kids, the buzz, the camaraderie, it's just a different atmosphere, and so I wanted the opportunity to do that.”

Jernigan went through the district’s Aspiring Leaders Program and was offered her current position as Principal of Benson Middle School.

One of the things Jernigan is looking forward to at Benson Middle, is the opportunity to serve fifth grade students. In her professional development role she had the opportunity to work with elementary school students, and she found she loved to see their passion and excitement for school.

“That joy that they had, I want to see that in kids at a middle school level. How does that excitement about school continue on as we as we get older,” she asked.

Jernigan is looking forward to bringing this level of excitement to Benson Middle, a newly designated restart school. Restart schools operate under a different set of guidelines than traditional public schools. They are allowed more flexibility akin to charter schools while still remaining in the public system.

“Innovation is what Johnston County is all about,” she said. “We want to truly start looking at the way we do things and how do we do them differently in the classroom. We want our processes and procedures to ensure that we're preparing students for the future.”

Jernigan said the Benson community has already shown great support for her, the school, and what she’s trying to accomplish in the coming year.

“I am so glad to be back in this area. It is a great community, and they do support their students,” she said. “It's been really great to have found the right niche.”