Principal Tamara Jones-Jackson
The Analytical Leader, Star School Leader Recipient
Principal Tamara Jones-Jackson began her career as a teacher for students with learning disabilities. By working with the same students year after year, she began to see teaching as a relationship: “You’ll never be able to get through to anyone if you don’t have that [first].” Her leadership style follows the same vein.
This is the ninth spotlight in a series of twelve, in which we feature the winning recipients of Kiddom’s annual Star School Leader Award. Look for the others over the coming months by signing up for our newsletter.
After 17 years in education, the best advice that Tamara Jones-Jackson can give comes easily to her: “Teach to touch their hearts, and they’ll give you their minds.” Being on the receiving end of this approach to teaching may have been what attracted her to the profession in the first place.
Principal Jones-Jackson once had a one-track mind for business when she was a student; it was her major in college until one of her professors inspired her to go into education. Before she was an administrator, Tamara spent 10 years in the classroom as a special education teacher, building relationships with students year after year.
She continues to apply this experience to her role as a principal by supporting students. “One of my administrators always used to say that I’d make a wonderful principal,” Jones-Jackson recalls. “I told her that I enjoyed working with students as a teacher, or even with the families as a counselor, but I’m not sure I’d ever want to be an administrator.”
“Now I think I have the best of both worlds. As a principal, you’re managing the business aspect of the school, and you’re still connected with the children.”
Now entering her second year as the head of Ralph J. Bunche Elementary School, Principal Jones-Jackson most enjoys the ability to help in every aspect of a school setting: “When you are a teacher you’re confined to a particular area. But as an administrator you can participate in the world outside of the school as well as the world within.”
High Risk, Guaranteed Reward
The 2019-2020 school year will be Tamara’s eighth year in administration, and her second year at Ralph J. Bunche. Over the years, Principal Jones-Jackson has made a name for herself by working with schools that have been named a priority risk. At her last school in Taylor, MI, she was given 4 years to raise test scores and take the school off of that list. She was able to do it in two.
Principal Jones-Jackson’s entire career in education has been spent with at-risk students: first in special education supporting students with learning disabilities, and now at Ralph J. Bunche serving a 100% at-risk population. All students receive free and reduced lunch, and many are bussed in from inner-city Detroit.
“My leadership style is to build teacher capacity for a quick turnaround, and make sure the students are getting what they need.”
— Principal Tamara Jones-Jackson, Ralph J. Bunche Elementary
Bunche Elementary is comprised of pre-K through 3rd grade students, with plans to serve 4th graders in the near future. While the issue of classroom space remains a barrier, Principal Jones-Jackson pours attention and resources into the area where they’ll have the most impact: “Right now, my focus is on building teacher capacity within the school so that the teachers will have the skillset and the encouragement they need to support our children.”
“In 3 short months, Principal Jones-Jackson has created a functioning PTO where we never had one before. She has allowed teachers to take leadership roles for the betterment of the school, changed procedures to make things run smoother, and provided guidance and instruction on how to use our data more effectively so that we can better serve our students.”
— Sandra Fuoco, teacher at Ralph J. Bunche Elementary
The Right Resources, The Right Timing
By supporting teachers with the right resources at the right time, Principal Jackson-Jones hopes to improve test scores and other factors that drive decision-making at the district level. She is most proud of the fact that school employees work together as a team: “It typically takes 2-5 years to create that sort of culture, but we’ve been able to bridge the gaps between staff, to where they’re actually working together to do Common prep time—they’re working as a team and not in silos.”
“What astonishes me the most [about Principal Jones-Jackson] is how she always gets things done! In a struggling district without extra income, we now have a communication system in the building, ceiling tiles and bleachers are fixed (which haven’t been in years), and teachers are getting much needed resources. AND she does this all with a smile and positive attitude. In my 2 decades of teaching, she is truly the most inspirational, motivational, and believable leader I have ever had the pleasure of working with.”
— Sandra Fuoco, teacher at Ralph J. Bunche Elementary
Principal Jones-Jackson acknowledges the draw to constant technology, as well as the threat it poses. “It seems like babies are coming out with cell phones in their hands. It’s just the new way.” She recalls a recent article she read about how some schools are trying to deactivate their kids from the constant technological access. We recently read a similar article, in which schools were using low-tech technology to do so. In these situations, she adds, some students are even having technology withdrawals.
But despite the risks of bringing technology into the classroom, there are rewards. Principal Jones-Jackson admits that she finds herself being drawn to technology for the ability to “just be able to go and pick something up to read a news article without having to go to the library and read about it.” To Principal Jackson, it seems that technology is inseparable to the future in education. “Technology is everything. And I don’t see us moving forward without it in any capacity—whether that’s personal or professional.”
Recap: What Makes a Star School Leader?
Great school leaders empower their teachers. What teachers do is one of the most difficult, and often thankless jobs. And while we all agree that teachers are the true heroes of every school system, it takes a special kind of leader to enable their teachers with the right support to focus on the important things. Like teaching.
The Star School Leader rubric stands on three pillars, hanging from one common theme:
- Empowering others by setting a positive attitude, culture, and environment.
- Empowering others with the right use of technology as a means and not an end.
- Empowering others through supportive coaching and access to professional development.
To read about the rest of the Star School Leaders, visit our recipient announcement page.
More From the Star School Leader Series
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As a principal, Mr. Nemlich views technology as a way to open doors that may otherwise be closed to kids from a rural environment.
We spoke with Taos Academy founder & Principal Traci O. Filiss about change management, empowering teachers, and inspiring students to be self-motivated.