Mat­ta­woman ad­min­is­tra­tor named Prin­ci­pal of the Year

Rec­og­nized for hard work, team build­ing

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

Tragedy led So­nia Blue Jones to be­come a prin­ci­pal ear­lier than she’d ex­pected. But hard work and ded­i­ca­tion have led the Mat­ta­woman Mid­dle School leader to a top honor in the county.

Jones was named Charles County Pub­lic Schools’ 2016 Prin­ci­pal of the Year re­cently, and fi­nal­ist in the Wash­ing­ton Post’s Prin­ci­pal of the Year awards pro­gram, which seeks to “rec­og­nize those prin­ci­pals who go be­yond the day-to-day de­mands of their po­si­tion to cre­ate an ex­cep­tional ed­u­ca­tional en­vi­ron­ment,” ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per’s web­site.

Joseph Evans, an in­struc­tional as­sis­tant, was chair­man of the nom­i­na­tion com­mit­tee.

“With her lead­er­ship style, want­ing to help grow teach­ers into lead­ers, and the cli­mate and spirit that she brings to

schools, I think she should be rec­og­nized through­out the county as a model for other prin­ci­pals or peo­ple who want to go into ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Evans said.

Sherelle Dun­ning­ton, prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary at Mat­ta­woman, said Jones is big on build­ing team­work.

“She wants every­body to be a team,” Dun­ning­ton said. “She’s one of the best bosses you could ever have, but she’s still stern. She brings a pos­i­tive en­ergy.”

Jones said that teach­ing runs in her fam­ily.

“I come from a long line of ed­u­ca­tors, so ed­u­ca­tion was part of my fam­ily. My aunts were teach­ers, my mother was a teacher, so the ed­u­ca­tion bug bit me quite early,” Jones said. “At the age when most peo­ple wanted to play with dolls, I wanted to play ‘school’, and I had to be the teacher.”

Jones be­gan her ca­reer as an el­e­men­tary school teacher in Prince Ge­orge’s County Pub­lic Schools where she taught for 12 years.

“I knew I was mak­ing an im­pact in the class­room with stu­dents, and I felt that be­com­ing an ad­min­is­tra­tor I could broaden that im­pact with more stu­dents, more fam­i­lies,” Jones said.

She be­came an as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal in District of Columbia Pub­lic Schools be­fore be­com­ing vice prin­ci­pal at Matthew Hen­son Mid­dle School in In­dian Head in 2006.

She worked un­der Prin­ci­pal Ron Stup who helped shape her ad­min­is­tra­tive phi­los­o­phy, Jones said.

“What I loved about Ron, he gave you per­mis­sion to make mis­takes. So I was free to hone my lead­er­ship skills and make mis­takes and have what he called, ‘teach­able mo­ments,’” she said. “His lead­er­ship style of teach­able mo­ments helped frame my style. It’s a no-fault phi­los­o­phy. It’s not your fault. Let’s just fix it, so that it doesn’t oc­cur again.”

The school had a tight-knit com­mu­nity in the throes of tran­si­tion, Jones said.

“When I got there in 2006, it had 900 stu­dents, and then when [Theodore G.] Davis [Mid­dle School] opened, it dropped down to 600 stu­dents,” she said.

In 2011, Stup died af­ter a brief ill­ness and Jones found her­self thrust into the act­ing prin­ci­pal role in the mid­dle of the school year, which she de­scribed as one of the most dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ences in her ca­reer.

“What I wanted to do was go and hide and grieve the loss of my prin­ci­pal, but I couldn’t be­cause I was thrust into lead­er­ship and I had to be the com­forter for teach­ers and stu­dents,” Jones said. “But it’s those kinds of things that help to shape your lead­er­ship, help to build the char­ac­ter in you that you need to do the job.”

Jones said she drew strength from the school com­mu­nity and man­aged to forge her own path for­ward.

“I felt ex­tremely sup­ported at Matthew Hen­son, not just by stu­dents and staff, but by par­ents,” she said. “I was sur­rounded by peo­ple who ap­pre­ci­ated my work there as vice prin­ci­pal and were will­ing to sup­port me in the role of prin­ci­pal be­cause they knew my work ethic as vice prin­ci­pal, and that was very com­fort­ing.”

In 2015, Jones moved to Mat­ta­woman Mid­dle School in Wal­dorf.

“Change is dif­fi­cult, not just for the per­son bring­ing the change, but for the peo­ple who have to live with the change,” Jones said. “But what I will say about Mat­ta­woman Mid­dle School is that they have em­braced me with open arms, es­pe­cially the com­mu­nity. The com­mu­nity has em­braced what I want to bring to the school.”

This year at Mat­ta­woman, Jones has ini­ti­ated two men­tor­ing pro­grams aimed at at-risk male and fe­male stu­dents.

“I want to show them that it’s cool to be a smart male, a smart young lady,” she said.

Jones said she has spent much of this school year get­ting to know teach­ers, stu­dents and par­ents. Over time, she plans to in­cor­po­rate more sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, engi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics, or STEM, learn­ing into the cur­ricu­lum.

“I re­ally see this school be­com­ing a pre­mium STEM mid­dle school, where we are all things STEM,” Jones said.

She de­scribed re­ceiv­ing the Prin­ci­pal of the Year recog­ni­tion as the high point of her ca­reer.

“This is just a very hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said. “There are so many prin­ci­pals in this school sys­tem who are equally de­serv­ing, so to be cho­sen is very hum­bling for me.”

Gary Lesko, sixth grade vice prin­ci­pal, said Jones’ car­ing for the stu­dents is ev­i­dent in every­thing she does.

“The cli­mate, the cul­ture, the morale, she’s re­ally good at build­ing those things,” Lesko said. “I think she’s very de­serv­ing.”

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Mat­ta­woman Mid­dle School Prin­ci­pal So­nia Blue Jones speaks with stu­dents in the school cafe­te­ria.

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