Getting Personal: Justin Thorlton

Getting Personal: Justin Thorlton

Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, staff writer Paul Wood chats with 40-year-old Danville native Justin Thorlton, the new principal at Garfield Elementary School in his hometown.

What are your plans for Garfield?

I plan to work with the students, staff and families to make Garfield a great place to be. We have had an awesome start to the school year. I have enjoyed getting to know all the staff, students and families. We have such a positive environment, and I'm looking forward to helping Garfield be a place where students can do their best.

You've said I would like to do a book study with them on "Teach Like a Pirate."

We have embraced the "Teach Like a Pirate" theme this school year. In the book, P.I.R.A.T.E. is an acronym. It stands for passion, immersion, rapport, ask and analyze, transformation, and enthusiasm. We are embracing these ideals at Garfield Elementary.

You started as a substitute teacher, I believe. What's the secret of moving up?

I don't believe there is a secret to moving up. I do believe in integrity, hard work and perseverance. I have worked with many great people throughout the years, and I have learned a lot from each of them.

You planned do a book study with teachers on "Teach Like a Pirate." Have you already done it. If so, how did it go? If not, when are you planning to do it and are the teachers excited? Do you say "arrr" a lot?

We do say "arrr matey" a lot. Every person in our building has a copy of the book, and two teachers who have fully embraced the "Teach Like a Pirate" ideals are going to see Dave Burgess, the author of "Teach Like a Pirate," next month in the Chicago area. We celebrated "Talk Like a Pirate Day" last month. Next month is our family reading night. The whole school is reading a condensed version of "Treasure Island," and we are having fun activities based around the book that go along with our pirate theme. It's been a lot of fun, and everyone is loving it.

What are some of your best tools to calm a noisy classroom?

We are an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) school, and AVID uses "callbacks." One of my favorite callbacks is "waterfall." When it's noisy, you say "waterfall," and the students put their hands in the air and slowly lower them down and say "shhhhhh." Its sounds just like a waterfall, and it's a lot more fun than yelling "be quiet."

Tell us about your family.

My wife, Kate, is a preschool teacher. She is very supportive and understanding of the time and energy it takes to be a principal. We have four great kids ranging from ninth grade to second grade.

What's something almost nobody knows about you?

Although I stay pretty healthy through exercise and being a vegetarian for over 20 years, I will eat a whole bowl of candy if it's left in front of me.

What book are you reading now?

I'm reading "Lead Like a Pirate" by Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess. I'm all in with the pirate theme. The goal of the book is to make school amazing for students and staff.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

The day each of my children were born. They make me proud every day.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

Abraham Lincoln. His optimism, integrity and perseverance are all very admirable traits.

What's your best piece of advice?

Approach every day with an open mind, a supportive attitude and a smile on your face.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

When I was 16, I filled the line at George's Buffet. My grandpa was the cook, so my brothers and I all worked there at some point. It was a learning experience for sure. I lifeguarded at Vermilion Hills Country Club and the YWCA through high school. I think minimum wage at that time was $4.25 an hour.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

I always use the Charles R. Swindoll quote, "Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it" with students when they are dealing with stressful situations. I also keep the same quote in mind when I'm dealing with stressful situations. I try to stay calm, cool and collected at all times. Having an outlet for stress out of school helps me greatly. I have a great group of running buddies that get me out the door early mornings. I try to hit gym in my basement for some weightlifting. My wife is super understanding and always offers an ear for listening when needed.

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Topics (2):Education, People