Why Haywood – Julian Stanz – Student Options Academy

Coming on the heels of two fractured school years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of educators are considering a new career.  According to a poll conducted by the National Education Association in January of 2022, 90% of its members surveyed said that feeling burned out is a serious problem.  

On a macro level, educators are critical to the continuing success and development of our country as a whole.  On a micro level, finding and retaining teachers in Haywood County who want to teach in the community and invest in the lives of students is of the highest importance to the district.  Without passionate teachers, the plans and programs of a district would be null and void no matter how innovative those plans and programs are.  

In West Tennessee, there are multiple districts in need of teachers that are within driving distance of Haywood County.  Outside of the world of education, there are companies and job opportunities available in abundance.  So, what keeps our teachers in Haywood County?

Julian Stanz has been driving east on Interstate 40 every day for over ten years.  Each morning, he leaves his home outside of Memphis to drive about 40 miles and work with students at the Student Options Academy in Haywood County Schools.  

There are a plethora of teaching jobs available in Shelby County Schools, but Julian has chosen, year after year, to continue to invest in the lives of students in HCS.  Not only is Julian investing in the lives of students, he’s helping students achieve their goals in a non-traditional way.  Julian is especially fit for this role because, growing up, he was also educated in a non-traditional way – he was homeschooled.  

Working with students at the SOA allows Julian to get to know them and help them in ways that he couldn’t help students in a traditional classroom setting.  He loves seeing students overcome challenges they may have been facing before coming to the SOA as well as helping provide landing spots for his students after graduation.

I sat down with Julian and, fittingly, our conversation didn’t exactly follow the same format as my other “Why Haywood” conversations.  We discussed how special and innovative the SOA is and why he loves working in that environment.  We also discussed what has kept him driving up the interstate to Haywood County for so long.  Below are excerpts from our conversation.  To hear the full interview, click this link for our Tomcat Talk podcast.



Tell us a little bit about yourself 

I double majored in education and history and minored in psychology.  I’ve been teaching for fourteen years.  I’ve been in Haywood for the most part.  


What grade level do you teach?  

I teach all high school: 9-12.  I prefer high school and wouldn’t want any part of anything under 9th grade (laughing).  

I taught 6th grade in Memphis and I loved the kids, but there’s a different energy level to middle school students.  At the high school level, there’s opportunities to focus on individual student needs and not have to worry about the rest of the class falling apart.  Teaching middle school, you always have to be aware of everything all at once.


Tell us a little bit about the  Student Options Academy.

If you’re a student that moves from out of town and some of your credits don’t transfer and you get behind your freshman year, this is the right program for you.  You can make up those courses at your own pace.

If you did poorly in junior high and find yourself behind a grade level or even two, you can come here and move at your own pace and catch up by the time you’re ready to graduate.  

As long as you’re willing to put in the work, the opportunity is there to gain those credits.  

There are some students who aren’t made for a room with 30 other students in it, so this is a program for them, too.  It would be easy if every student learned the same way or needed the same things when it comes to education, but that just isn’t the case.  Some students need to dig a little deeper or work at a different pace, and the Student Options Academy helps with that.

Another option is that if a student is very good at math and not very good at English, they could get the math credit out of the way and spend more time on English and get extra help with English.  That’s another advantage of the SOA.


Can you tell us a little bit about a particular success story you’ve seen at SOA?

Without using names, there’s a student who came here from lock up and was always in trouble.  Sometimes the story of students like this takes time to manifest; sometimes it takes over a year to start to see a change. 

This student came here in handcuffs and wanted no part of school, but around Christmas he started to make a turn.  He started attending school every day; he realized that his credits were attainable and he’s going to graduate in May.

We lined up a job for him out of high school, so he knows the world won’t just collapse on him when he graduates.  He’s set up for success.  

What is the most challenging part about teaching?

Here, a lot of the students are disenfranchised with learning and kind of hate school; they haven’t experienced a lot of success in school.  Building that bridge to get them to buy in takes time and effort.  Once the students see other students and the success they’re having, they start to change a little and buy into the program.  

Sometimes kids expect the SOA to be the same as their old school, and it’s not.  But getting them to the point where they see the difference is challenging.


What is the most rewarding aspect about teaching?

I get to see students transition out of school and see them cross the finish line.  That’s so rewarding – especially if they didn’t think it was possible to graduate.  You can’t put a price tag on that; it’s literally life-changing.  

What aspect of your personality do you feel students connect with the most?

I took a personality test and it came back negative.  That’s an example of what I use to connect to students: bad jokes.  


What is something about you that your students would never guess?

I’m an Eagle Scout.  I was home-schooled throughout high school, so scouting was the way I socialized.  I don’t think my students would guess that.


Was there an educator along the way that influences the way you teach or inspired you to be an educator?

In college, there was a professor from Zimbabwe that really inspired me.  He had so much mercy on me as a student who was coming out of a home-school environment.  I will always remember how he taught me to be successful.  

I hope I can be that to my students; someone who can have authentic conversations with students about their future and help them get there.


Why Haywood?

Haywood has always given me something meaningful to do.  It’s given me a way to do something where I knew I was helping.  All I’ve wanted to do is help kids, and Haywood helps me do that.