Going into the military was not an unlikely path for Rodney Tyson, having grown up near Fort Bragg, N.C.
“I was always around the military,” he said. “I always saw the military as something I wanted to do.”
However, Tyson, the principal of Lakeside High School, ventured a winding path through the service that ultimately led him to a career as an educator and administrator.
Tyson enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1983. After basic training at Fort McClellan in Alabama, he went on to serve as a nuclear, biological and chemical specialist. His first station was at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. After six years as an enlisted soldier, Tyson went to Officer Candidate School and become a second lieutenant in 1990. By the time he retired in 2005 with the rank of major, he was an acquisition officer stationed at Fort Gordon, working on a new communication system.
Tyson says his wife was more astute than he was about his upcoming challenges adapting to civilian life.
“My wife told me, ‘You’re going to struggle a little bit when you take that uniform off,’” he said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t think so. I think it’ll be a smooth transition.’”
After his retirement, Tyson became a Subway franchisee, operating three restaurants in the Augusta area. Most of his employees were high schoolers. One of the first things Tyson says he had to adapt to, also noted by his wife, was the questioning of authority.
“When someone tells you to do something, it’s always, ‘Yes, sir,’” said Tyson. “Well, I quickly found out when I got out of the military that it doesn’t work like that with teenagers. It doesn’t work with the civilian populace, period.”
Tyson adapted to his young personnel’s defiant tendencies mainly by explaining and observing. The young workers would be more likely to do something once they understood why it needed to be done. He examined them and their work habits, and over time determined that he had the skill set to be a positive influence. It was here that Tyson’s next life course began to seem as likely as his first one.
“My wife had been a teacher all of our military career, so I had been all around education,” said Tyson. “My dad was a teacher, as well. So it was just a natural thing for me to do to make that transition into education.”
Tyson started his teaching career running the ROTC department at McCormick High School in McCormick, S.C. Two years later, he would launch the ROTC program at Grovetown High School once it opened in 2009.
Tyson’s journey into education also entailed furthering his own, culminating in earning his doctorate in education from Cappella University in 2016.
Tyson says a lack of patriotism or respect for the flag among the students initially angered him once he started teaching. He recalls experiencing the bond between soldiers and their families that come of the stringent and precarious life of those in the military, and the long-lasting friendships he developed during that time. He then remembers how this already profound sense of brotherhood intensified after 9/11, and the unity among servicemembers that grew deeper since that day.
“I had to realize these kids weren’t even born when 9/11 took place,” said Tyson “It’s part of our responsibility in the school system to teach them about that.”
After eight years at Grovetown High School, Tyson went into administration, serving as the assistant principal at Evans High School in 2017. He was selected to be the principal at Lakeside and began there in 2021.
Tyson has combined insights from both eras in his life to apply them to being a school administrator. A key discipline from his days in the Army that has proven just as important in education, Tyson says, is attention to detail. He learned to observe and pay attention to details from the strong sense of routine he was trained with, and the fact that in the Army, not paying such attention could cost lives.
“I tell young people all the time, the keys to success are in the details,” said Tyson.
The fruits of retired Army Maj. Tyson’s journey still flourish. He recalls how, while teaching at Grovetown High, instilling a certain discipline, respect and patriotism in students in the ROTC program was often streamlined in that his students were often the children of military parents. He then observes how he rediscovers, on occasion, the impact he has made and continues to make.
“I run into these kids now at the grocery store, and they come up to me with their spouses and kids,” said Tyson. “ ‘I didn’t appreciate it when I was at Grovetown, but I’m in the military, or I’m doing this job, and I appreciate what you showed me in that routine. It has paid dividends.”