By Rebecca Schmitz
Jason Crutchfield’s path to a successful career in education began on his high school football field. “When I was a junior, my coach let me call the plays, and I understood the offense better than he did. It made me want to go into coaching. I knew in order to keep doing this I had to go get a teaching degree, so that I could be a football coach. I was one of the fortunate people who knew exactly what I wanted to do and could hit the ground running in college as an education major.”
After obtaining a bachelor of science degree from West Virginia State University, and a Master’s degree in arts, education, and administration from Marshall University, Crutchfield taught seventh grade social studies for five years in Johnston County, North Carolina. He then transitioned to a position as a teacher recruiter, and soon afterwards moved to Staunton, where he taught at Fort Defiance High School. His found his experience teaching AP students there to be a valuable one: “That was the first time that there were no zeroes in my grade book. Those kids weren’t messing around. I got a lot of my administrative experience working with those kids. You had to be on your game in terms of your preparation. They were sharp. You couldn’t slide anything past them.”
He eventually assumed the role of assistant principal at Fort Defiance. “The irony is that I went to school to be a football coach and I ended up only coaching one year— my first year—then I had [my son] Osiris and I didn’t coach for a while after that. I coached tennis at Fort Defiance, and I was asked to coach football right before I left to become assistant principal at Stuart’s Draft Middle School.”
Crutchfield came to Henley in 2007 and was assistant principal there until 2013. He became assistant principal at Brownsville in 2014 and assumed his role as principal on May 1. He replaces India Haun, who left in December to take a position as Director of Accountability and Research for Albemarle County Public Schools. Barbara Edwards, retired principal of Broadus Wood Elementary, served as interim principal until Crutchfield took over.
Crutchfield says he’s enjoyed working with all ages of children, but that transitioning to elementary school has been a learning experience. “All ages are great, but they all have their challenges. I looked at elementary school as a unique opportunity. I’m used to receiving kids at the middle school level, and sometimes they would come to us with issues…. I want to give it a shot here at elementary school to fix whatever problems they might have before they get to middle school. I have a real opportunity. I’ve got the kids for six years here, in some cases, to really help and support them before they go to middle school.
“I had a lot to learn when I came to Brownsville from Henley. It was a big learning curve. My joke is always that, when you’re working with an eighth grader, you can reason with them and talk it out, but you can’t always do that with a kindergartner, not if they’re hiding under their desk,” he said with a laugh. “I had a lot to learn, and everyone at Brownsville has been so dedicated and willing to help me. That’s what’s been really great about being here. The teachers have been so gracious to let me into their classrooms and learn what they’re doing.”
Crutchfield believes one of Brownsville’s greatest strengths is its sense of community, which he hopes to maintain and strengthen, even in the face of tremendous community growth. He praises Brownsville’s parents for being so involved in their children’s schooling and for sharing their skills and knowledge by serving as volunteers. “The families are great, and they’re doing a great job with the kids. Parents come in and they volunteer their time. We have a lot of knowledgeable parents with a lot to offer. Our parents are very involved.”
“We have had so much tremendous success here. I want to make sure we don’t lose that, so part of my goal is to maintain that success. As a leader I have to make sure I’m getting input from all sides.”
In elementary school, Crutchfield said, “It’s important that kids find their place.” He hopes their years at Brownsville will spark new interests and help them discover what they love to do. He also wants to foster their curiosity and encourage them to be self-sufficient learners. “Kids need a general curiosity for learning things. We want to develop their own intrinsic motivation to want to learn, to find things around them interesting, and when they have a question, to seek out the answers on their own, versus an adult guiding them. That’s what we’re really trying to do, foster that curiosity. They need the motivation to take that next step to find out the answer on their own. That’s where the real learning will take place and where they’ll really see the value in it.”
Crutchfield keeps plenty busy outside the halls of Brownsville. “My wife and I have four kids, between the two of us. I had two, and she had two. We’re like the Brady Bunch!” He met his wife, Erica, his first day at Henley, when both were putting lunch money on their children’s accounts. His daughter, Brit’nee, 26, is in veterinary school at the University of Illinois. Son Osiris, a senior at Western and a star defensive end on the football team, will play football for U.Va. next year. Noah is a junior at Western, and Gabe attends the Math, Engineering Science Academy at Albemarle High School. “They’re four great kids,” he says with a proud smile. An animal lover, he also has three dogs and one cat. His wife has owned a hair salon, Top Knot Studio, on the downtown mall for the past four years.
Crutchfield grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and his love of the Baltimore Orioles is well known at Brownsville. “I try to go to two or three games a year,” he said. He also loves to hike and spend time outdoors, and is a trail manager for the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club. “I’m in charge of about 1.6 miles of the Appalachian Trail. We work to monitor it and clear away trash. Every month there’s a maintenance trip.” He marvels at how fortunate the community is to be able to appreciate the natural beauty inherent in this part of the country. He also enjoys playing basketball and supporting his children at their events and activities. He keeps busy by serving on the Health Advisory Council for the School Division and on the Board of Directors for the African-American Teaching Fellows in Charlottesville.
Crutchfield wants to remind everyone—parents, caregivers, teachers, and children—that his door is always open. “Hopefully every child feels comfortable and things make sense, and they feel like there’s a place for them here. And that’s what I think we’re doing here.”