Back to their Roots

JCPS staff work at schools they once attended

By Juliann Morris

May 17, 2023—When Dr. Shervita West landed the principal job at Brandeis Elementary School 20 years ago, it felt like coming home, she said.

Dr. Shervita West smiles.

West grew up just down the street from the school and attended Brandeis from kindergarten to third grade. She is one of many JCPS staff members throughout the district who now work in a school they once attended.

“It was a full circle moment for me to come back and lead the school that was really so instrumental in my development as a child,” West said. “I’ve always felt at home here, and I’ve always felt supported as the leader. I really do feel like that’s because I’m homegrown.” 

West attended Brandeis in the 1970s when it was still a Parkland-area neighborhood school. Brandeis is now a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) magnet school that draws students from across the county.

The school’s demographics have changed substantially since she was a child, West said, but the heart of Brandeis–its compassionate people and supportive community–remains the same.

That’s been apparent since her first year as principal, when West’s first grade teacher at Brandeis, Karen Mize, came back to volunteer and help her former student find her footing.

“I think the people here are still kind and compassionate and caring, and that reminds me of what I had as a little girl,” West said. “It's one of my priorities as a principal to ensure that when kids walk in the door, they feel welcome, they feel loved, they feel valued and seen. This community is still the champion for what's right for kids.”


Kohl Dodd’s passion for education dates back to his time as a student at Fern Creek High School. Dodd graduated in 2015 and said the impact his high school teachers made on him was “a big reason why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place.”

“I knew I wanted to come back,” Dodd said. “Obviously it’s familiar, but I also wanted to be able to be like one of those teachers who made a difference in my life.”

Dodd began his teaching career at Fairdale High School during the 2020-21 school year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when JCPS was implementing virtual nontraditional instruction (NTI). He transferred to Fern Creek High for the 2021-22 school year. As he shifted from NTI to in-person instruction for the first time, Dodd had familiar faces to help him through the transition. 

Two photos side-by-side. First is of Kohl Dodd holding a football and the second is of Kohl Dodd coaching wrestling.

“I’ve been able to kind of lean on my former teachers, ask them for advice and use them as my mentors,” he said.

Dodd teaches U.S. History and AP U.S. History and coaches wrestling, a sport he used to play at Fern Creek High. While many things have stayed the same in the less than 10 years since he’s graduated, Dodd said he’s also impressed with new initiatives that have pushed the school forward, like implementation of the Academies of Louisville and the Ivy Plus Academy. 

“I love to see the opportunities we’re giving students,” Dodd said.


When Tanya Bennett attended Portland Elementary School in the 1970s, there were few interior walls. She could look out and see all of the other classrooms in the school. She distinctly remembers how students would take turns marching around with the American flag each day as the school recited the Pledge of Allegiance. And she also clearly recalls the time her kindergarten class got to make butter.

“We’d do a project once a week, and one week we got to make butter,” Bennett said. “We all got a turn to churn the butter, and then we got to try it on biscuits that the teacher had brought in…They probably wouldn’t let us do that these days.”

Bennett (pictured with her kindergarten class-top row seventh student from left) will celebrate her 23rd year at Portland Elementary in August. She’s held multiple roles at the school and currently serves as a secretary. 

Photo of kindergarten class from Portland Elementary School Room 104 1970-71

Bennett grew up in the Portland area and said she can’t imagine working anywhere other than the close-knit community and school that helped shape her as a child.

“I loved it as a kid, and I love it now,” Bennett said. “I wouldn't go anywhere else if they asked me to. I would probably retire. I just love it here.”


Sean Honadel can still remember every teacher he had at Okolona Elementary School. 

“Ms. Dennis, oh I loved Ms. Dennis,” Honadel said. “She was my third-grade teacher. She was an older lady, but man, she had so much energy.”

The school has changed quite a bit since Honadel attended in the 1990s. At that time, similar to Portland, there were few interior walls with classrooms open to one another.

When Honadel learned he’d be returning to the school he once attended, the first thing he wanted to do was explore–visit the library, the cafeteria, and the gym–to see if it looked like what he remembered from his childhood.

Sean Honadel smiling.

“When I told my family and my friends that I’d be teaching at the school that we grew up in, my brother was like, ‘oh, that’s amazing,’” Honadel said. “He said, ‘I’ve always wanted to go back in there and see what it looks like,’ and I said, ‘well, you’d be very surprised.’”

Honadel said he was thrilled to get a chance to work at the school he once attended. 

“I really wanted to work for Ms. Stearman…and I knew the layout, I knew other teachers from student teaching,” he said. “It just seemed like the right fit, right choice at the right time.”