Mattawoman administrator named Principal of the Year
Recognized for hard work, team building
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.”
Mattawoman Middle School Principal Sonia Blue Jones speaks with students in the school cafeteria.