Lawson is the principal at Lake Hills Elementary School. He is one of 11 principals from across the country to receive this year’s Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding Leadership.
Lawson, 40, said the award is humbling.
“It was an affirmation of not my hard work, but the hard work that’s going on around me,” he said. “I am the principal of this building, but it takes more than one person to run the ship, and we really have that here.”
Lawson and his fellow recipients of the 2018 leadership award will be honored during the National Blue Ribbon Schools awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 7.
Lawson grew up and started his career in Ishpeming, a small town near Marquette in the Upper Peninsula. He served as a resource room and physical education teacher and varsity basketball and football coach before moving to West Michigan. He taught fourth grade in Hudsonville before teaching fifth grade at Robinson Elementary School.
Lawson is in his seventh year at Lake Hills. During his second year as principal, Lake Hills was named a Focus School by the Michigan Department of Education. Focus Schools are among the 10 percent of Michigan schools with the largest gap between the highest- and lowest-achieving students.
Lawson said his focus has always been that “all children can achieve at high levels regardless of where they live.”
Lawson and the Lake Hills staff participated in book studies about poverty and how to address it in positive ways, and worked to develop strong relationships with families. While changes in curriculum and instruction have helped, Lawson said he believes it all begins with the strong relationships.
During the 2015-16 school year, Lake Hills was named a Reward School. Last month, the school was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School.
Grand Haven Area Public Schools Superintendent Andy Ingall said Lawson has many strengths that contribute to his leadership, including his ability to build relationships.
“He is a person of high integrity and strong work ethic,” Ingall said. “He walks the walk in all things he believes in, and that makes for a great learning environment. No task or challenge is too big or too small for Jason. He supports students and staff every day, all day.”
Ingall said that Lawson “has cultivated a school climate where the success (and turnaround) at Lake Hills is possible.”
“People believe in Jason and his vision,” Ingall added. “And he lives and breathes it day in and day out. This has and will sustain success at Lake Hills.”
The hardest day of the school year is when fourth-graders move on to White Pines Intermediate School, Lawson said, because it’s difficult seeing them leave the Lake Hills family.
Over the years, Lawson said there have been many people who have impacted his life. Looking ahead, he plans to continue to learn and grow from his fellow educators and impact more families at Lake Hills.
“I’m extremely proud of everyone surrounding me and very thankful,” he said. “I’m really blessed in my role because of who I have in my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the people that I work with, without the kids that are here at school and my own personal family. I have a lot of support, so I’m really fortunate.”