The student news site of Iowa City High School

The Little Hawk

The student news site of Iowa City High School

The Little Hawk

The student news site of Iowa City High School

The Little Hawk

Staff Profile
Helena Echa
Helena Echa

Q&A With Principal Bacon

Photo courtesy John Bacon

John Bacon graduated from City High School in 1992. He began his job as City High Principal in 2010. 


As a student at City High in the 1990s, did you know that you would one day become its principal? 

Absolutely not. In no universe did I ever consider it. At the time, I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. I wanted to be the voice of the Hawkeyes. I wanted to be the guy who did the sports on the news, and I wanted to be an announcer. So I think that’s why I like doing the [daily] announcements so much, because it’s my one little shot to be a broadcaster.


What were your interests as a high school student? 

I was a member of the Little Hawk Student Newspaper staff: sports editor as a junior, and opinion editor as a senior, and I took a lot of pride in that. I was also a member of the basketball team. I was never a starter, I [was a] kind of came-off-the-bench type guy, but our team was really good, and I was very very proud to be part of the basketball team. So those were probably my two big activities. 


What were your favorite subjects?

I always liked history classes, and I liked my journalism class. I also liked French, but to be honest, I was not a very good French student. But the French teacher was a wonderful, kind person, and so even though I wasn’t a great French student, I really appreciated the relationship I had with her. She was always there for us, and she helped make school fun for us. 


Tell me about your experiences in between graduating from City High and your return as Principal. What led you to come back?

I went to [the University of] Iowa for college. I was a bartender in downtown Iowa City all the way through college, so I had some very interesting experiences in downtown Iowa City as a bartender for about five years. And throughout that time, I reflected on, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ And to tell you the truth, I remembered that when I was in elementary school, we had these two teachers, Mr. Aunan and Mr. Saehler, who’d take us outside for recess, and we played this big recess football game, and they were the all-time quarterbacks. They would each quarterback a team, and we would play recess football every single day. And all those years later, I remembered that, and it seemed fun, and those guys seemed to enjoy what they did, and they were making a difference for kids, and it was a positive memory, and I thought I could see myself doing that. So I became an elementary school teacher. I was a 3rd and 4th grade teacher, and I loved doing that. I really enjoyed getting to read aloud to the kids during teacher read-aloud time. These were good memories. I really enjoyed my time as a teacher. But then I started thinking that I was interested in leading a school, and getting an opportunity to influence an entire school community, so I went back, and you have to get a master’s degree in education administration to get your license as a principal, and I did that. Then I was fortunate: I got a position as an elementary principal at just 29 years old, in Muscatine, Iowa, and then the job at Lemme Elementary School opened up, and Iowa City is my home, so I jumped at it, and I got that job at Lemme, and I was Principal for five years, and we had a great run at Lemme Elementary School. But then the job opened up at City High, and it was kind of crazy for me at the time, because my whole career had been in elementary school, and I had not been in a high school since I was in high school. But City High held a very special place in my heart. I loved my time at City High as a student. It was a really magical and important time in my life, and I have tremendous pride in the East Side of Iowa City. To me, City High is like the capital of the East Side of Iowa City. City High is really important: it brings the East Side together. And I wanted to serve this community in that role, and so I took a shot, and they took a chance on me–knowing my background was in elementary school. I took the job and I’ve been here ever since, 14 years. 

[City High] is a reflection of our community. We have people from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, and I think that is such a strength of the high school.

— John Bacon


How has City High changed since you were a student here? 

I think it has grown. We’re now over 1700 students, and it was around 1200 students when I was here. It is a much more diverse place now. I like to say that it’s like holding up a mirror of Iowa City: it’s a reflection of our community. We have people from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, and I think that is such a strength of the high school. I really believe that City High students get two kinds of education: I think they get an education academically, and I think our kids get an education from each other. I think getting to go to school with people from lots of different backgrounds, and getting a chance to make friends with people from lots of different backgrounds, helps our kids learn how to work with a broad spectrum of people. And I think that’s an asset for kids, because the world is a diverse place, and City High students are well-prepared because of their experience here. I think that’s a very positive thing. I think our school is a much more interesting, dynamic, vibrant place because of our diverse population. And it is a much, much more diverse high school than the school I attended in the early ’90s. 


What does your day-to-day life as Principal look like?

The first thing I’d say is there are a lot of aspects of my job that are important. But the two things that rise above everything else for me is, one: I accept full responsibility for what I call the culture and climate of the high school, how it feels in our building. When you walk into our school, what does this place feel like? How do people treat you here? I accept that responsiblity. I think that starts with me, and it is my job is to ensure a safe, happy, positive school environment for all of us. And that is one of my primary responsibilities. The other thing that is of primary importance for me is hiring our faculty. I have help from our assistant principals, but I accept responsibility for the hiring decisions that are made for City High. This is a large institution. We have probably approximately 200 or so staff members that work here. That’s a lot of employees. And so this is a bigger job than one person can do [by] themself. And so the opportunity to hire people great people, and bring great people onto our team here, is incredibly important to me. I’m very proud of our faculty and staff.

Those are two things that stand out to me as key aspects of my job. There are lots of others, obviously: I’m responsible for our fiscal resources, our budgeting and allocation of funds; I’m responsible for the evaluation of our teaching staff; I’m responsible for making sure we have a schedule that ensures kids can get access to the classes they want to take. [As well as] any building or construction-related project, building additions and maintenance of this historic campus. All of those things are my responsibility to oversee. 

I am not the kind of principal who wants to operate in anonymity. . . I want students to know me. I want them to know that I’m someone who is there for them. I want them to know that I’m an advocate for them, that I care deeply about them, that I care deeply about our school, that we are a team, and that we are all in this together.

— John Bacon


You have a very enthusiastic and distinctive voice on the announcements each day. What is your goal in this regard? 

The announcements are important for me, because it’s my opportunity to speak to all 1700 Little Hawks each day. I am not the kind of principal who wants to operate in anonymity. It’s important for me to be out there in front of our students. I want students to know me. I want them to know that I’m someone who is there for them. I want them to know that I’m an advocate for them, that I care deeply about them, that I care deeply about our school, that we are a team, and that we are all in this together. And I feel that the announcements give me an opportunity to speak to students each day. And not only are the announcements a chance for me to talk to students about all the great things going on on our campus, but they are also a chance for me to, a little bit at a time, shape culture on our campus, emphasize things that are important, reinforce a sense of pride in the school, and make people feel they are part of something. And the announcements are just one small tool that I can use to do that.


Who is your biggest inspiration?

Bob Dylan. He’s my hero in life. He’s a genius; he speaks to me; I absolutely love Bob Dylan. My son, Bobby, is named Bob Dylan Bacon. I love Bob Dylan and he is very important to me. He’s my biggest inspiration, without question.


What is it about Bob Dylan that you feel most inspired by?

When I listen to him, I feel a little bit less alone on this earth. I feel like there is somebody that I can really relate to. And somebody who sees the world in the same manner in which I do. And he knows how to say things that I feel, but I don’t necessarily know how to say, or I could have never said quite like that. He says it, and I’m like, ‘That’s exactly what I’m talking about.’ I highly recommend him to all students, [although] he’s a bit of an acquired taste. 


What is your favorite thing about being Principal?

Of [the] many, many things that I enjoy a lot, there’s nothing better than watching our students find something that they care deeply about, and work hard at, and get to experience some success. That’s really special. Whether it is watching a student try out for the musical and get up on that stage and perform for the first time and have that experience, or whether it’s watching the Mock Trial team work all winter long on Sundays up here, and then go and win a state championship in Mock Trial. Or whether it’s a sports team that’s competing side-by-side, Little Hawks together, going into competition together, making these memories that will last a whole lifetime. And I really enjoy watching students find their passion here at City High, and then work hard, and go out there and do their best. And that’s really fun to get a chance to be a part of that process and watch students grow over four years. The freshmen come in as kids, and you leave as a young adult. It’s a transformational four-year period, and our work here is really important. There are other factors–we’re not the only factor, but this high school definitely has the opportunity to play a role, and make sure all our students are walking across that stage at graduation hopefully into something positive that they’re excited about doing. That’s our job for every single Little Hawk. 

I don’t think there is any other bastion of society that is quite like a large, diverse, public high school. It’s one of the only places–in any aspect of society–where people from all walks of life come together under one roof.

— John Bacon


What is your least favorite thing about being Principal?

I would say that, a lot of times, I’m in the middle of a lot of conflict, and my job is to be a professional problem-solver. When you have this many people together in one spot–literally, a couple thousand people are here together every single day, and then when you factor in all of our families at home, there are going to be conflicts–that is life. There are going to be issues that we have to work through together, whether it’s between staff members, whether it’s between students, whether it’s between students and staff, there always will be [conflicts]. On the one hand, I don’t want to say that it’s my least favorite thing, because it’s an important part of my job, because my responsibility is working through difficult situations, coming up with solutions that everyone can live with, and moving forward together. But I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that that can wear you down at times. I have to remember that if it’s a day with too much conflict going on, sometimes I might take a walk down to the orchestra room and listen to the orchestra play. Or [I’ll] try to go and strike up a conversation with a student about something positive. There are so many opportunities to be rejuvenated, because there are so many amazing things going on here every day. 


What do you think that you do well as Principal?

I want to believe that we have built a special sense of school spirit here at City High. I think that our students, and frankly, our entire East Side community, know that they are part of something special here at City High. I don’t think there is any other bastion of society that is quite like a large, diverse, public high school. It’s one of the only places–in any aspect of society–where people from all walks of life come together under one roof. And we’re all part of a school family, so I feel that we have a strong sense of community here at City High, and a sense of pride in this very special place, and I feel really proud to be a part of that.

I’m also really proud of what we’ve done with this campus. I feel like, 75 years from now, the work that we’ve done is still going to be benefiting thousands and thousands of students, for many years to come. Throughout my 14 years here at City High, we have transformed this campus, and nearly every corner of the campus has been improved in a fairly dramatic way, from new editions that we’ve built, to little touches here and there. This building is beautiful right now. I’m really proud of it. This place is called ‘the most beautiful school in the State of Iowa’ for a reason. And I know that, from a physical standpoint, it has dramatically improved over the past decade-plus. And that’s not just me, that’s a huge team effort of a lot of people, and that’s the taxpayers of this community investing in our public schools. But I’m proud to have had a chance to play a part in that.


What are your personal goals for self-improvement as Principal?

I want to make sure that every City High student does feel safe, cared for, and a part of something special. As our school grows, and when I get older, I want to make sure that I can always deliver that to students. I want to make sure that City High is always a safe, happy, positive place, and that we continue to improve in that regard. I don’t ever want to take a step backward in that category. And so probably my biggest goal is just that right there. Ten years from now, I want the school to be even more successful, even more safe, even more positive than it is right now. That’s probably the most important thing: making sure we keep improving in that regard.


What are your most immediate goals for changes and improvements at City High?

I want to play a role in creating more pathways for students in math education. I’m a strong believer that the traditional math track must always be celebrated and protected and offered to students, but I’m also a believer that our society should offer multiple pathways for students to meet math requirements in high school on the way to college. I’m not a believer that one size fits all, and I don’t think that every student needs to go through the traditional curriculum as it stands right now. This year, we launched a new course called Geometry in Construction, and I’m very proud of it. It is a way for students to meet the geometry requirement in the math sequence, but it is based in real-life application, and they teach the class in our shop downstairs. It’s a double-period class: one period is learning about the math, geometry, and the other period is, right then and there, applying it to construction, to building, and to design. It’s super cool. That is an example of what I’m talking about, and I think we need more of that. Whether it’s a financial literacy course, whether it’s processing and analyzing information and statistics, I would like to see more and more math-oriented choices for kids, so they can pick the sequence of math classes to meet the math requirement that feels right to them. 

I also want to eliminate the carpet in the math hallway and replace it with terrazzo, the super fancy, marblelike floor that we have in the rest of the building. It (the carpet) looks terrible, and we think we’re close on this one, and Mr. Bacon’s going to keep pushing until we have that carpet out of the building, and it will be a huge improvement to our campus.


Why are you interested in adding to the math pathways specifically?

I see a lot of students struggle in math. Math was hard for me, so maybe I’ve got a little bit of a bias there, because when I reflect back on my experience as a student, it was really, really hard for me. This is not a knock on math. We should always preserve and protect the traditional math curriculum. For students who are interested in a traditional career path that is going to need that type of mathematical training, or for students who enjoy it, I think it’s incredibly cool, and I have great respect for students who are able to go through, like, AP Calculus BC. That’s very remarkable to me. I also think there are a lot of students who realistically might be better served from alternative math courses where they’re still learning important mathematical concepts which would enhance their life, but that might be a little more practical and beneficial for them in their life moving forward. I think all the other curriculas have more elective choice. Think about our science, language arts, and social studies courses. You have some options there. In the course catalogue, there are different types of classes that you can pick. But in math, it’s just one straight sequence. So I’m intrigued by the idea of math elective course offerings.


What are your biggest concerns for City High? What are the biggest challenges it faces?

Whether it’s our political climate that we live in, or whether it is still feeling certain effects from the pandemic, I think that there is a little bit of harshness, or an edge, out there in our society these days. There are a lot of divisions between people, which our students and all of us are exposed to on a regular basis. And I think a challenge for all of us moving forward, all human beings is: How do we cut through those to just making sure that we treat each other with respect and kindness? And that we are good to each other. Fundamentally, you can either tear somebody down or you can lift them up. And none of us are perfect, that is for sure, and we all make mistakes, but I think that to the extent we can, we should try to place a high value on the way we treat each other, and spread kindness through this high school. I want every student to look forward to coming here every day. I don’t ever want a Little Hawk to say, ‘I don’t want to come to school because it’s not a happy place for me.’ I’m not naive; I’m sure that it’s real life, and obviously, every one of us is going to have hard times to go through, but I want City High to be as supportive and caring and positive a place as possible. So I think our biggest challenge is continuing to strive for that aspiration moving forward. 

I want this to be the best school year we’ve ever had here at City High.

— John Bacon


Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would love to see this be–I want this to be–the best school year we’ve ever had here at City High. To do that, I hope that our kids will really take pride in going to their classes on time, doing their best, and feeling a sense of pride and ownership of this high school, and knowing that this is our time. This is our time. Students and staff who are here right now, this is our time to carry the great tradition of this high school and help us keep getting even better. So I want everybody to know: we are in this together. 

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Tai Caputo
Tai Caputo, Executive Editor and Feature Co-Editor
Tai has been to public schools in three different countries. She enjoys eating spicy foods.
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