Brian Lyons is just your typical high school principal – who also happens to know how to give a fresh hair cut in a pinch. It’s all part of his charm, his authority-figure-who-truly-cares persona that makes Brian so relatable to his students and the community. And, for someone who spends every day surrounded by hundreds of kids at McMillen High School in Plano ISD, being relatable basically makes him a superhero, although he is too humble to ever admit that.
“Having an impact on kids that don’t have a voice is my favorite part of my job,” said Brian.
Often, Brian sets up a temporary office on a rolling cart, so he can work in the halls and converse with students. He recounted a story of a student who was violating the dress code which disallows hats and bandannas at school. “When I brought it up with him, he wasn’t really being himself, so I talked and connected with him. His family is going through a tough time, and he was struggling to pay for a haircut. I told him I get it, and that I happened to have hair clippers in my office.”
Brian gave the student an edge-up and sent him back to class. “He wasn’t going to be able to focus on learning when he was worried about what others were going to say,” he said. “Creating an environment for kids so they can be safe and successful and forget about things they face outside that we can’t control is important to me.”
Brian said he grew up in subsidized housing and didn’t have a lot. He was born and reared in Milwaukee, the youngest of 16 children in a blended family. His parents were married for 35 years before his dad passed away while Brian was still young. His parents only made it to 8th grade themselves, but they always encouraged their children to do more. Because of their influence, Brian was the first in his family to graduate college. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies and master’s in curriculum instruction and educational leadership.
“My experiences crossed so many different life circumstances that I can relate to kids on many different levels, from not having a lot to having enough and everything in between,” he said. “I let students know that they have value; they can accomplish anything they want. I always say, ‘Don’t let your current situation define who you are.’”
Brian married his high school sweetheart, Allison, on New Year’s eve in 1999, then relocated due to her job; she now works as a corporate vice president of human resources here. Brian has been in education more than 20 years. He started by teaching high school social studies, and has principal experience at all three academic levels. Brian, Allison and their two children, Christian and Brooke, moved here in 2012, as our city is “a high-performing district with a diverse population, a true representation of the society that we live in in terms of race, ethnicity and different religions,” he said.
In order to impact more students, Brian completed Leadership Plano Class 36, and is now on the advisory board for both Leadership Plano and Plano Youth Leadership. These positions give him an opportunity to help guide future leaders outside his high school.
This year has been especially challenging in public education everywhere. Plano ISD currently offers students the option to learn remotely or in person, with high school and senior high school students observing a hybrid schedule. That means some McMillen students are attending school fully remotely via Plano ISD School@Home, while others have selected face-to-face learning, placing them part-time on campus for synchronous instruction and part-time at home for asynchronous instruction.
Limiting the number of students on campus at a time allows the district to provide maximum social distancing in the larger high/senior high schools. Brian and the McMillen staff are navigating how to intentionally provide an equitable learning experience no matter the environment. They are striving to meet the needs of all students. Nevertheless, Brian is confident that it’s possible for kids to thrive in the current situation.
“It’s more than just teaching; it’s about connecting with kids and building strong relationships,” he said. “Our teachers are experts and very good at this, but it’s still difficult. We also want to teach kids that this type of distance learning and working may be their future. So we are focusing on showing them how to utilize the resources available to them online, how to manage their time, how to learn over the computer.”
Although no two days for Brian are ever the same, he provided a general overview of his average day as a high school principal.
A Day in the Life of a High School Principal
8 00 a.m. After doing his daughter’s hair, Brian arrives at work and starts checking his email. He wants to make sure he didn’t miss any emergencies from the prior evening — like parents advising about sick kids or ones who tested positive for COVID-19.
8 30 a.m. Brian is now on duty, greeting students and making sure they arrive on campus safely.
9 00 a.m. Now it’s time for a district meeting with his supervisor.
10 00 a.m. Observing teachers in classrooms is one of Brian’s favorite parts of his day.
11 30 a.m. Brian works from the mobile cart in the halls. He doesn’t like to be secluded in his office too much, so he sets up in different spots around campus to work on his laptop. He takes frequent breaks to talk to students and teachers as they pass by.
1 00 p.m. Time for cafeteria duty. Brian helps monitor students on lunch breaks to encourage them “to act correctly and make good decisions,” he said.
1 30 p.m. He’s back in the halls, connecting with kids. He likes to chat with students on how they’re doing, what their grades are like and what’s happening on campus. “Being visible is important to me so students can have a trusted adult on campus to turn to no matter what.”
2 00 p.m. Classroom observations again. He tries to make time each morning and afternoon to observe teachers in action.
3 30 p.m. Brian is usually back in his office, interacting with parents through phone calls and emails.
4 15 p.m. Although his day is “officially” over, Brian often stays later to catch up on administrative duties.
5 30 p.m. Once a week, Brian hosts a Principal Power Hour Facebook Live event with parents. During this interactive time, he gives parents updates on what’s happening on campus and opportunities to ask questions. He says it’s important to be connected and build relationships with kids, parents and teachers.
6 30 p.m. Brian leaves the office to spend time with his family. Often, they will go to Legacy West for dinner, or one of Plano’s parks to hang out and enjoy the outdoors. “We love being tourists in the community we work in,” he said.