Hometown Hero for Education

Written by Rachel Jones in the June 2009 Issue
Everybody wants to be somebody, do something great, be extraordinary. For Jim Carlisle, becoming an FBI agent fulfilled his childhood dream and led to a fabulous career.

For twenty-eight years, Carlisle served on the force with assignments in nine locations across the U.S. before he volunteered to come to Oklahoma on a temporary thirty-day assignment as an investigator in the Oklahoma City bombing in the summer of 1995. By 1996, his 30-day duty had turned into a permanent transfer and his family followed him from Alabama to lay down roots in Edmond.

Carlisle didn’t view his retirement from the FBI as a time to stop working and slow down. He saw this as another chance to try a new career that saved lives in a different capacity – teaching young people.

“In my first career I saw so many wrecked lives. That was one of the things I thought about in a second career – just trying to keep some people from winding up in train wrecks with their lives,” says Carlisle.

With encouragement from his wife, Carlisle began a new adventure helping students to realize their potentials. Thirty years earlier he taught and coached in Mounds, Oklahoma for the 1969 – 1970 school year and loved every minute of it.

Carlisle coached baseball and basketball, served as a Sunday school teacher, scout leader, and tutor – all while working as an FBI agent. He volunteered at Jackson Middle School as a tutor and mentor right before he retired and was hooked. He soon got a job teaching U.S. and Oklahoma history at Memorial High School and took education classes at the University of Central Oklahoma.

It didn’t just stop with teaching. He knew he could make a big difference as an administrator, as well, and took steps to become a principal. He interned at Cheyenne Middle School and became an assistant principal at Memorial for two years before landing his dream job – the principal and director of alternative education at Edmond’s Boulevard Academy.

Boulevard Academy and its alternative education program are set up for students at risk for not graduating, whether they have personal struggles, health problems or any other issues that have caused them to fall behind. With only 160 students and a student-to-teacher ratio of fifteen to one, the small classes create a community for breeding success for students that otherwise wouldn’t get a high school degree.

Christy Prather-Skinner, one of the full-time counselors at Boulevard Academy, has seen the effects of Carlisle and the entire staff’s dedication to helping serve the students’ needs. “I’ve been here for about two years now and absolutely love it,” Skinner says. “Most of the kids that are here are here because they have some pretty significant challenges in their lives so we try to connect them with resources and get them the help and support that they need. Sometimes it’s a struggle to see what they’re going to become and what they’re going to do, but then they’ll come back and they’re just so successful.”

One such success story comes from the mother of a student who was at Boulevard just last year. Barbara Jones saw first-hand what alternative education could do for its students. Her daughter now has a high school diploma and a scholarship at the University of Oklahoma, where she just completed her first semester. “I think sometimes people see Boulevard as a place where kids with problems go, but it’s really a school for anybody that’s having any sort of challenge, whether they’re falling behind, or have personal challenges, health challenges, whatever,” says Jones. “I’m so thankful for Mr. Carlisle and the teachers there because they understand and listen and have that support system that really gives that personal touch to help students succeed. I can’t say enough about what it did for my daughter and how it was exactly where she needed to be. It was just a really good experience for her.”

Jones’ daughter isn’t the only success story walking out of Boulevard Academy this year. Between all three Edmond high schools and Project Hope, over 100 students graduated that Carlisle personally worked with at one time or another. “We’re not successful with every student, but the ones we do succeed with make you want to dance and sing,” says Carlisle. “None of those hundred plus students would have gotten through to graduation without alternative education. To see those kids walk is pretty thrilling because that’s a hundred plus lives changed right there.” Carlisle may have retired as an FBI agent, but he’s still saving lives one diploma at a time. 
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