A Life of Servant Leadership

James Strait ’94 is passionate about providing military-affiliated students with the education, mentorship, and support they need to succeed. For his proven commitment, Strait was selected as the 2021 Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) Pacific Principal of the Year.

By Cherie Suonvieri '15, content specialist

August 04, 2021 | 10:15 a.m.

Bethel University alumnus James Strait

James Strait '94

When James Strait ’94 became principal at Kubasaki High School, he let the staff know he was in it for the long haul. The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) school, which is located in Okinawa, Japan, had once seen frequent turnover in administrators. But ever since his arrival in 2019, Strait has been putting down roots and working to bring new life to the community.

As a DoDEA school, Kubasaki serves families affiliated with the U.S. military, and according to Strait, it’s the second oldest school in DoDEA. “At one point, we were promised a new school, so a lot of the construction and beautifying of the campus stopped,” Strait says. “Due to changes in the military budget, we never got a new school—and we had people who felt that the current environment wasn’t conducive to learning.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Strait and his family didn’t travel over the summer of 2020, as they typically would have. This provided Strait the time and space to rally community support to renovate the school themselves. Together with students and community members, Strait and his wife repainted the interior of the school, redid the cafeteria, created more lounge spaces, and turned Kubasaki into a place students wanted to be.

“It’s a 360-degree turn,” Strait says. “Teachers want to be there. Students want to be there, and they take pride in what we have.”

This initiative is just one example of Strait’s leadership, which won him the 2021 DoDEA Pacific Principal of the Year award. Strait is an Army veteran with 22 years of service, and he has a special passion for military-affiliated students. He says his children faced their own challenges when he was deployed, so today, he works to ensure every student finds the support they need.
James Strait family

James Strait, with his wife, Michelle, and three sons, Jordan, Javen, and Josiah

When it comes to student support, Strait is especially interested in mentorship. After moving away from San Antonio, Texas, where he grew up, Strait says he found mentors that helped him get where he is today. “Growing up in the inner city, I had choices to make. You see people doing things that are not right—but you don’t have to become part of that,” Strait says. “I made a choice by leaving.”

After high school, Strait attended college briefly in Kansas, and then transferred to Bethel University, where he ran for the track and field team and studied physical education. “At Bethel, I found mentors who helped put me in the right spot and support me on my journey,” he says. “If it weren’t for that, I don’t know where I’d be. I always tell students that once they leave our school, they need to find that mentor. They need to find that person who’s going to put them on the right path.”

Another concept that Strait took away from his Bethel experience was servant leadership. “I think of 1 Corinthians 9:19, which says, ‘I’ve made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them,’” he says. “That’s just so fitting. I’ve given myself to the Lord and to my community, for the good of our students.”

James Strait outside Kubasaki High School

James Strait outside Kubasaki High School. Prior to his time at Kubasaki, Strait also served as principal for a school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, followed by two other DoDEA schools in Kentucky and Puerto Rico.

Students who come from military-affiliated families typically transition to a new school every two to three years, according to Strait. Each time their family moves to a new military base, students find themselves recreating their networks of friends. “My hope is that we can provide them that stability when they get here, to show them that this can be home and that we’re going to support them in every way that we can,” Strait says.

Strait believes that his calling in life is to serve the Lord and to serve people in any way that he can. “There’s a lot of negativity out there, but I’ll continue to share my faith and continue to be that positive role model,” he says. “I’ll do whatever I can to serve the Lord, serve my community, and continue to make this world a better place.”

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