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New President Dr. Joseph Joyner brings his love for education to Flagler

Oct 18, 2017
by Brian Thompson, ‘95 Photo Scott Smith, ‘04

For new Flagler College President Joseph Joyner, education has been in the family for four generations. His grandmother taught first grade for 40 years. His father and mother were both teachers, and his father went on to become a school principal.

“I’m surrounded by teachers,” he joked. “My wife taught for 38 years. Both my daughters were teachers. Three of my brothers were teachers. It’s all in the family.”

As Joyner begins his presidency — his first day officially began on July 1 — he brings that passion and love for education to the job of leading Flagler as its fourth president.

“Watching my father work made me fall in love with the ringing of the bells,” he said.
“That’s why I wanted to get into (education).”

Whether it was in the classroom, as the former superintendent of the top school district in the state of Florida or now as Flagler’s president, Joyner said education is something he feels called to — a way to help make a difference in the lives of students.

“There’s something magical about when you capture the enthusiasm or you can inspire young people,” he said. “To see that inspiration and see students excited about learning new things, there’s something special about that.”

Joyner said that makes it more than just a job, and he is driven by the fact “that you can make a big difference in the lives of students.” 

Joyner, who retired as superintendent of the St. Johns County School District earlier this year, was named president of 2,500-student Flagler College in November of 2016. He succeeded President William T. Abare Jr., who retired this June after serving in the position for 16 years.

Board Chairman Frank Upchurch said Joyner will continue the legacy of Abare and his predecessor Dr. William L. Proctor.

“(Joyner) shares their commitment to the college’s core values of teaching, learning, student success and civility,” he said. “Under Dr. Joyner’s leadership, I have every confidence that the college will continue the pursuit of excellence.”

Joyner said it was Flagler’s focus on students and teaching that appealed to him.

“The things that drew me here were the values,” he said. “That was right in my wheelhouse because that’s what I believe in: Focus on students first and then focus on the importance of teaching.”

He’s excited to help build on the strong foundation that has been laid by previous presidents, and to help take the college to the next stage.

Getting a feel for the culture of the college and building relationships with the existing leadership team, the faculty and staff, and especially the students are his main priorities.

Already he has spent time much of his time in the position listening to students and faculty talk about projects, accomplishments and plans for the future. Recently he sat down with Professor Michael Butler and student Ally Pickren to hear about an 11-day study abroad trip to Vietnam that was part of Butler’s course called, “The American War: The Struggle for Independence in Vietnam.” Joyner said he loves hearing about the work students are doing at Flagler, and plans to make time to attend as many student events
as he can.  

Listening to Flagler’s many constituents will play an important role in helping to set a course for the future of the college.

“What does greatness look like when it comes to teaching and our students? What does greatness look like when it comes to Flagler College?” he asked. “The visioning and strategic planning helps you define what this is going to look like for the future.”

Joyner’s connection to Flagler really began in 2014 when he was asked to become a trustee for the college. He fell in love with Flagler because of the students he saw and met while serving on that board.

“(With college students), there’s so much hope in their eyes,” he said. “They all want to change the world and that’s a great thing. There’s so much hope and enthusiasm and desire to do special things. I just love that. That hooked me right there.”

The smaller, more intimate environment was also a draw, and he said it helped reconnect him to what interested him about education in the first place — the ability to interact with students, faculty and staff.

“Here you’re able to know a lot of the students personally, to know all of the faculty and staff,” he said. “It’s more of a family, and that attracted me (to the position). Facilitating the academic process where students are able to get these experiences from outstanding faculty is the catch. That’s better than anything.”

Joyner began his educational career in 1977 as a teacher and a coach. He worked his way up to principal in an economically and ethnically diverse high school in Central Florida. Under his leadership, the school was designated as a National School of Excellence by the United States Department of Education. In 1993, he transitioned into administration for the school district that encompasses Orlando, eventually becoming area superintendent for the northwest part of the county. In 2003, he was named superintendent of schools for St. Johns County, home to St. Augustine.

There he oversaw a budget of $633 million, and 21 major construction and renovation projects that exceeded $387 million. The district was continually recognized as the highest achieving of Florida’s 67 school districts, and was also ranked among the top districts in the state in the percentage of money spent on the classroom.

But Joyner is quick to give the credit for that success to the district’s teachers and staff, as well as its students. He said he is a big believer that success stems from collaboration, listening to different voices and a lot of humility.

“I’m one who is very much an advocate of shared decision-making and gathering input as opposed to sitting at that desk and making decisions on my own,” he said.

In March, he was recognized with the state’s 2016 Lavan Dukes District Data Leader of the Year award by the State Board of Education for leading one of only two districts to achieve an “A” grade every year since district grades were implemented in 2004. 

“He cultivated a student-focused environment that used data to guide instruction and ultimately helped the district’s students achieve outstanding academic results,” said Florida’s Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart.

Stewart said Joyner was recognized for emphasizing the use of data to help ensure students became well-rounded graduates with good character and strong leadership skills. At the school district, data wasn’t just collected, but reviewed on a weekly basis through professional learning communities as teachers and administrators used it to drive instruction and monitor student progress.

“When you make data-based decisions, it doesn’t mean numbers drive everything,” Joyner explained. “Data is not always about numbers. It’s information. The more information that you have and the more input you get from different groups, the better decisions you make.”

Joyner said his career has been based on his strong personal beliefs and a passion he has always had for serving others. 

“Part of (the desire to serve) is a sense of gratitude, and wanting to express that gratitude in ways that you’re able to help others,” he said.

It has led him to become active in the St. Augustine community, working with organization’s like the St. Francis House homeless shelter and United Way. 

“The real joy you get in life is not power, money or acquiring things,” he said. “The people who are really the happiest are those who found joy in serving others.”

At Flagler, he wants to continue that, especially building on student community involvement initiatives, as well as programs like the Reach Out, Raise Up community service days, which are put on each semester by the student-run Flagler College Volunteers club.

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