Interview with Mitchell Curry

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of hearing Mitchell Curry and his school leadership team present a workshop on how their school became recognized by the National Association of Secondary Principals as a “Breakthrough School”.

Mitchell Curry

Mitchell Curry is Principal of Scott Morgan Johnson Middle School in McKinney, Texas, one of ten schools identified in 2013 as a Breakthrough School.

My goal in posting interviews with successful leaders in education like Mitchell is to inspire us to reflect on how our own choices, goals, and actions can affect our lives, our leadership, and our teams.

After being encouraged by Mitchell, be sure to check out other great guests who have shared innovative ideas for school leaders with me.

Meet Mitchell Curry

WDP: First, we want to get to know you. Please tell us who you are, your background, and what led you into educational leadership.

Mitchell: This is my 5th year in McKinney I.S.D. Before coming to Scott Johnson, I was a band director for eleven years. I have been an administrator for the last six years.

I earned my undergraduate degree from Stephen F. Austin State University and hold a Masters in Educational Administration from Texas A&M-Commerce. I am married to Valerie who is a String Orchestra teacher at Ford Middle School in Allen, Texas. We have two boys Cole (10) and Cooper (6). In my free time I like spending time with my wife and boys, swimming, golfing and traveling. I also enjoy playing Wii and working in the yard. I work hard and I like to play hard.

WDP: As an educational leader, what would you consider your biggest wins so far?

Mitchell: Scott Johnson Middle School is very fortunate to have the best staff, students, and parents. I believe that we have the best year in the history of SJMS. We achieve high standards by being a team and exemplifying TIGER P.R.I.D.E. (Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Determination, and Excellence).

I have high expectations for my students. These are the same standards that I have for my own children, Cole and Cooper. I want them to have a great experience at school and to become great people.

My mission is to help the students become successful young adults and to offer them a world class education. I entered the education field as a band director, and I have continued to seek growth in areas that I could positively effect the school environment that I am a part of.

Helping teachers, parents, and students achieve their goals is richly rewarding for me.

One of my biggest wins has been coming to Scott Johnson and finding a way to help students for diverse populations achieve. The team has done an excellent job of doing whatever it takes to succeed.

WDP: No one leads well without also experiencing failure along the way. Can you describe a failure you have faced and how you overcame it?

Mitchell: We have not reached all of our goals at Johnson. I believe that we have a lot more to give and a lot more to achieve. My biggest failure is not providing the structures and motivation for all of my students to succeed.

I overcome these failures by tracking the successes of our most challenging students into and through high school. It helps our team and myself see the the successes that can be achieved and measured.

WDP: What is something that is really working for you or your team right now, and what lessons have you learned from this?

Mitchell: Student connections. It really works for us. Teachers and students can achieve together. Apart does not work.

Using mentoring programs and making it a priority for all students to be involved in an activity really helps students become a part of the learning organization. AVID is also a great example of giving students ownership and mentorship with adults.

WDP: Strong leaders are constantly learning. What is a great book or resource that has helped you grow and that you would recommend to others?

Mitchell: All of Phil Schlechty’s readings have help me to transform our classrooms from teaching platforms into a learning platforms. The ideas about engagement and transformational leadership have guided me through the standardized testing issues that we all struggle with.

(Readers can check out a Phil Schletchty read here.)

WDP: What advice do you have for leaders who struggle to balance work/life demands?

Mitchell: Seek a mentor. I have been fortunate to have superintendents and school leaders that were willing to mentor me. Being able to call and ask those hard questions without fear is crucial. Sometimes the balance is strategically abandoning some things.

WDP: Offer one parting word of wisdom for the rest of us, and then tell us how we can connect with you.

Mitchell: Do what your heart tells you. Yes, data and measurement is vital to the core business of education, but having a good compass is more important.

Having a great heart for our parents, students, and staff will help you sustain a long relationship with the people that are important.

Our jobs are massively important to our kids, our communities and our country. Learning and growing are paramount to a school organization, and there can be no greater compliment or responsibility than this.

You can connect with me via email at

WDP: Thanks so much Mitchell for sharing! If you want to find out more about the great things happening at Scott Johnson Middle School, check out NASSP’s super highlight on Principal Curry and his school.

Now It’s Your Turn
Mitchell’s school is a “Breaking Ranks” school because their school leaders nurture relationships and hold their students to the standards they hold their own children. What are some ways you are nurturing those values at your school? Share with the rest of us.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker