John Shearer: Jenise Gordon, recent GPS administrator, hiking the Appalachian Trail

To say that the girls’ high school’s newest principal, Jenise Gordon, wants to see what’s on the horizon might be a literal truth.

After what she calls 18 very enjoyable years in school, including the last seven in administration, she recently decided to leave to hike the Appalachian Trail in its entirety.

“I’ve always wanted to hike the trail, and now seemed like a good time to do it,” she said in a school interview before starting the planned field trip. six months.

“I just want to be in the woods and listen to the sound of my own footsteps.”

For Ms. Gordon, answering that call of nature is as much about a glance at the calendar as it is about looking at the beautiful Appalachian countryside.

She turned 50 in April, she said, and feels it’s time to take a mid-life break while she’s still in good physical condition. And as she wanders around the eastern United States or after, she also hopes to reflect on her career plans for the rest of her working life.

“I loved every part of being at this school, but it felt right to try something different for a while,” she said. “But before that, I needed to take a break.”

And that includes hiking the trail, which she started last month after helping coordinate the Volunteer Girls State rally at Lipscomb University in Nashville. She said she prepared for the walk by exercising and hiking around Chattanooga and elsewhere and thinking about what food and gear to pack.

Coming to GPS in 2004 also came after a long journey of a cerebral nature. Raised in Jackson, Tennessee, where her parents often took the family camping for the holidays and where she learned all kinds of outdoor activities, she was a multi-sport athlete at Jackson Southside High.

She was also the third-best student academically before graduating in 1990 and receiving a presidential scholarship to Union University, which she attended due to the school’s plans to start a softball program. .

She was majoring in pre-medicine, but while taking a course focusing on working with young people with learning disabilities, knowledge she felt she needed as a doctor working with children, she first interested in education.

“I changed my minor to education and never looked back,” she said.

She was teaching at McMurray Middle School in Nashville when she heard about an opportunity at GPS from Suzanne Smartt, then a member of the drama faculty at GPS, and she moved to Chattanooga.

“Honestly, I was thinking of staying two or three years and seeing what else was there, but I fell in love with the place,” she said. “It’s an amazing school, and the girls are amazing.

“I could walk around the school and all I had to worry about was teaching. (The students) were kind, respectful, polite and very funny. Every day in class was fun.

In 2015, she was named dean of students, but the school’s then principal, Dr. Autumn Graves, soon asked her to become acting and then permanent principal of the high school after the departure of her predecessor, Dr. Margaret Downs-Gamble.

It was a role that offered new perspectives for Ms Gordon, she said. “Administration has been a real growth opportunity for me,” she said. “Everything is more complicated than it seems. In administration, when you see through the lens of a teenage girl, you see how much gray there is.

Although enjoying all the hard work while teaching a freshman biology class, she also began to see the green in nature and felt the urge to walk the trail and take a break. This urge was reinforced by experiences such as hiking the 75-mile Appalachian Trail through Great Smoky Mountains National Park in four days during Spring Break 2019.

For the current trek, she started in Maine and started walking south, which is considered the hardest route to walk due to some difficult sections at the beginning. She has a friend who has accompanied her and meets her with supplies in towns near the trail every few days, which saves her the extra work of having to send food and supplies to herself, like many hikers are forced to do this.

Before leaving, she said she was constantly thinking about everything to pack – from tuna to potato meals, as well as batteries for her phone.

She also imagined during the interview the non-humans she might encounter, saying she’s not as worried about bears and snakes as she is about mice which are known to bother hikers at campsites. And she said she luckily isn’t allergic – at least as far as she knows – to the poison ivy that covers the trail in the warmer months.

While admittedly a little nervous about the long hike before she left, this former GPS assistant coach said she was comforted by her inner determination and belief that she’s not a quitter. She’s also focused a bit more on activities she won’t have to do instead of what she’ll have to conquer, since she’s used to being busy.

“I’m glad to see what’s happening. I don’t do timeouts well,” she laughed. “I usually need something to do.”

She hopes to enjoy some audiobooks and recounts her journey on her Instagram page (@jeniselgordon). By July 4, she had already traveled more than 200 miles and had taken a brief break off the trail to enjoy an Independence Day event in a small town in Maine, according to her post.

She also said in the pre-hike interview that she knew she would meet and cross paths with many hikers on her way to the popular trail, so she was looking forward to that. “I’m so excited,” she said, summing up the whole hike.

Ms Gordon, who also hopes to one day finish visiting all the national parks in the United States, is confident that GPS will also continue to move well. She said a 1996 alumnus, Beth Wilson, had already been named to replace her, and Ms Gordon plans to follow GPS after focusing on her own ever-changing geo-like GPS through the hills and the Appalachian Mountains.

“It’s just going to keep moving and attracting young women who want to be the best versions of themselves,” she said of the school. “I will always be an advocate for this school and a supporter and I will be grateful for the opportunity I had.”

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