Sequoyah High School boss dedicated to education
Jolyn Choate, an educator since 1995, is in her eighth year as Sequoyah High School principal. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – A sprawling mural in Sequoyah High School’s old gym exemplifies Principal Jolyn Choate’s vision of working together.
“It goes all the way across and says ‘We are the future.’ I love the silhouette of the guy reaching down his hand to help somebody up,” Choate said. “I love that there are students that get it.”
Choate, 49, has dedicated her professional life to education. She’s in her eighth year as principal at SHS, where she treasures her students’ successes during and after their formative years.
“I enjoy everything there is about education,” she said. “There’s so much at the beginning when we receive students on our campus, the process of watching them grow both educationally, but also in maturity. It just gives you a great sense of accomplishment. I love seeing stuff on Facebook of our kids that have graduated. It’s just an incredible kind of thing.”
One of six siblings, Choate, a CN citizen, grew up in Lost City and graduated from Hulbert High School. She attended Oklahoma State University, then Northeastern State University, where she earned a mathematics/education degree. She later earned a master’s degree in administration, also at NSU.
At 19, Choate was crowned Miss Cherokee, which led to state and national titles.
“After I was Miss Cherokee, I was Miss Indian Oklahoma,” she said. “I was the sixth national Miss Indian USA. That was back in 1992. But when I was Miss Cherokee, I didn’t realize there was a Miss Indian Oklahoma, and when I was Miss Indian Oklahoma, I didn’t realize there was a Miss Indian USA.”
In 1995, Choate started her teaching career at SHS, but was lured back to Hulbert after a year.
“I spent 13 years in the classroom at Hulbert in the middle school and high school, then I was the elementary principal for three additional years,” she said.
Choate returned to Sequoyah as principal to work alongside Superintendent Leroy Qualls, a former Hulbert coach.
“He was my basketball coach in high school,” Choate said. “I knew what his expectations were and where he wanted things to go as far as the school was concerned.”
Her father, Jimmy Carey, was Sequoyah’s Cherokee language instructor.
“It’s just like everything was the right time,” Choate said. “My dad was still here. But he retired, I think, the second year I was here. So he was nearly at the end of his teaching career.”
Choate has 35 certified teachers and a host of support staff.
“I have a few teachers that think I’m much more elementary than I am high school,” she said. “But I’m also a firm believer that you’ve got to make school fun.”
Passionate about education, Choate’s ultimate goal is to become a superintendent.
“I had actually interviewed for the superintendent’s position at Hulbert,” she said. “They shared with me that I needed some high school principal experience. Coincidentally that same year this position became available.”
At SHS, Choate has between 375 and 395 students each year.
“I have a 100% graduation rate for the class of 2018. That’s what I strive for,” she said. “What that means is the students that came to us as freshmen – whether they left us and went someplace else – they still graduated. Or the students that came to us after their freshmen year, they also graduated. Or the students that left us and didn’t go someplace else got their GED or went ahead and finished online high school and have a high school diploma. That’s what that 100% graduation rates means.”
She’s also excited about a college-readiness class implemented several years ago. Called AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, the program is geared for post-high school success.
“We’re three years into the AVID program,” Choate said. “If you have an AVID program at school, your students involved in AVID are eligible for the Dell scholarship. I didn’t realize we weren’t eligible for it. So I thought ‘why wouldn’t we want something like that for our kids?’ The first year of AVID is difficult because they’re teaching you to be organized and plan. They teach you how to study, to use all of the resources that are readily available.”
Choate also points to opportunities in the arts as a boon for SHS students.
“I feel like something that Sequoyah offers that other places don’t get to offer on the same scale is our arts department,” she said. “We provide drama, Native American storytelling. I’m very, very proud of that aspect as far as Sequoyah is concerned. Band, as well, has grown and blossomed, and our speech and debate. It’s just a place where, if you are into robotics, you can flourish. If you are an athlete, there are others around you. Everybody’s got a niche. We always encourage the kids to get involved.”