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Frisco's Superintendent Sends A Heart-Healthy Message

Frisco School Superintendent Jeremy Lyon believes healthy children make better grades.  His philosophy is one reason the American Heart Association recently made Lyon the first superintendent appointed to an affiliate board. Here's more on how Lyon plans to put his passion into practice.

Before landing the top schools job in Frisco ISD last year, Jeremy Lyon already had a reputation for tackling childhood obesity head-on. In the Hays school district southwest of Austin, he implemented a mapping project to help pinpoint where students at the highest risk for developing obesity-related problems lived. Lyon says taking such steps was crucial.

“We had children coming to school with moderate and severe health issues and we have them on our campuses and doing all that we can to teach them and help them, but they’re not healthy,” Lyon says.

In his new role on the American Heart Association’s Southwest Affiliate board, Lyon hopes to be not only an ambassador for healthy living, but a liaison between the heart association and school districts. He says the appointment will help him learn about the organization’s various programs.

“We’re trying to figure out the same things, but we don’t necessarily talk to one another very often,” Lyon says. “We cannot afford to continue that pattern if we’re going to make a difference with obesity in this country and cardiovascular health.”

The other thing that has to change? The amount of physical activity children get in school. Like most school districts, Frisco ISD offers P.E. to elementary kids only three times a week, and those classes are part of a rotation that involves art, music and one other class like computers or science.

At Hays, Lyon piloted a program at three elementary schools in which students had P.E. every day. He wants to initiate something like that in Frisco, knowing the district would need to find more elementary P.E. teachers. Other changes he’d like to see are to the traditional school lunch schedule.

“We gotta get away from this mindset of we only eat in schools in the cafeteria at lunch time,” Lyon says. “How ridiculous is that? Everything we know about nutrition, you know, is eat low to the ground, eat often, drink lots of water.”

The American Heart Association says superintendents have a major influence on families and a school district is often among the largest employers in a community. That’s why the organization wanted to pick someone with Lyon’s background.

“It’s a very simple truth that if you want to move the needle on higher student achievement then we need healthy children,” Lyon says.

One way he plans to do that is by hiring someone specifically in charge of health and wellness for Frisco schools by next summer.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.