When it comes time for the final game of the year – the rivalry game – between Lake Highlands Junior High and Forest Meadow, it seems everyone in the community gets involved. Parents, grandparents and neighbors come out to cheer the student athletes, cheerleaders and band members from their side of Skillman – the dividing line of the Lake Highlands community. During the school day, the two principals encourage their teachers to join in the fun by wearing red & black or purple & white to support “their kids” and press on to victory. After the game is over, though, it’s back to business as usual for Kerri Jones of FMJH and Carrie Breedlove of LHJH. They’re all about cooperation and collaboration.
The women’s partnership began even before Breedlove took the job at LHJH. Richardson ISD officials invited Jones, hired to lead FMJH in 2014, to participate in Breedlove’s job interview in 2017. They wanted to make sure the two would be a match.
“Having someone there who’s done the work,” explained Breedlove, “someone who has a passion for kids and community support – that was important to me.”
“We work together so well,” agreed Jones, “we’re almost like sisters. We talk all the time, we text all the time. It needs to be a good fit.”
“On the athletic field we’re competitors,” added Jones, but sportsmanship is important, and we take care of each other. We’re not competing academically. We share ideas and resources. We invite each other to come and visit.”
“Last year,” explained Breedlove, “we had a principals’ team, a learning network, and we wanted to create an intervention network for our campuses inside the day. We were passionate to find out what we were missing, so she and I and a couple of other principals went to Arlington together and both brought back ideas to our campuses and tweaked the program for our kids. That collaboration has continued.”
“Carrie sent over muffins and treats for our teachers one day, and we sent the Kona Ice truck one day. We’re very big on squashing any rivalry.”
“Our kids are all going to LHHS one day,” said Breedlove, “so we need our teachers to collaborate for them, so [LHHS principal] Dr. Delich can see the work that’s being done consistently in our two buildings. We want that to be a seamless transition.”
Both principals, though, say they understand – and appreciate – the tradition of the neighborhood rivalry.
In Breedlove’s first year, the two teams did not play during the regular season, so when she walked into a pre-season scrimmage against FMJH and found a full stadium, she wondered, ‘Where are all these people coming from?’”
“There were not just junior high parents cheering,” she told me. “There were high school kids and high school parents and older community members. It was very clear this community supports junior high athletics.”
The next year, The Battle of the Boneyard was back on the schedule, along with LHJH vs. FMJH games in basketball and soccer.
“We tell them you are all going to be together unless you go to the magnet,” Jones said. “You know each other from club sports and church and Young Life and other activities. You can even see them on the court talking during the game, and their parents are talking, too. It’s a good, healthy rivalry – a healthy competition.”
Each year, both principals enroll students whose parents have attended their school.
“It’s interesting,” said Breedlove, “I find that those parents tend to stay in their feeder pattern. I don’t have a lot of parents who went to Forest Meadow as kids and now feed into LHJH. Most people kind of stay in their area.”
“They’re very loyal to their feeder pattern,” agreed Jones. “They have a lot of pride. And we have teachers who taught current parents – one, French teacher Ann Abercrombie, is now in her 38th year. The kids think that is the neatest thing. Parents like to come see our courtyard, which now holds classrooms, and see old yearbooks to reminisce.”
Catherine Hamrick, Sarah Kent, Lisetta Layer and Erin Blaydes Anderson attended LHJH, and now teach at that school.
“They have different perspectives, and they can tell you exactly what classroom used to be where. That’s fun. And we’re both getting observation requests from new teachers who graduated from LHHS and are getting their degree. It’s this feeling of coming home. The beauty of Lake Highlands is that the community supports all kids. These teachers want to be a part of that.”
Both schools have teams to reach down to their feeder elementaries for “spotlight” visits, preparing 6th graders to begin life as Chargers or Wildcats. Students hop on buses for 3-hour visits to their future school home, where student ambassadors show them around and preview life during a typical junior high school day. Breedlove took a team of assistant principals and instructional specialists to Thurgood Marshall Elementary, knowing kids at ACE campuses might have an especially challenging transition. RISD’s ACE program (Accelerating Campus Excellence) is designed to bolster academic performance at struggling schools by recruiting top teachers, boosting their pay and extending the school day.
“It was important for us to see their school. We’d heard it was more structured, with food provided, and we watched to see what they are used to. We’re trying to take some of that stress away.”
“We have Charger Camp the first two days of school,” added Jones, “where we go over procedures and routines. We make it fun, and we group them into ‘houses,’ kind of like home base, where they learn preparedness, respect, integrity, determination and excellence – the foundation of Charger Pride. We go there once a week.”
Both say they share ideas and encouragement via frequent calls and texts.
“We’re lucky that we have a very tight group of 8 junior high principals districtwide,” said Breedlove. “There’s no competition – we want our kids to be prepared for high school and whatever future they want.”
The group meets often and communicates via a GroupMe app. They recently messaged about whether or not to hold staff meetings and soccer practice during STAAR testing, because they wanted to present a united front.
“If she’s not having practice, I’m not having practice,” joked Jones.
“Things may look different on different campuses,” continued Jones, “but things are basically the same. You want to have the same focus, but we can’t be cookie cutters of each other, because that stifles creativity. I talk to my Student Council all the time, and they design things on our campus. Hers do, too.”
The kids, Jones said, are capable of incredible things.
“Oh my goodness, they’ll blow you away.”
Both principals had praise for their students and parents, but reserved highest acclaim for the work of the other.
“We’re blessed to be able to work together,” said Jones. “We always have each other’s back. Always. We’re a very strong team.”
“You can’t do this job alone. The job of a principal is even bigger than I expected,” added Breedlove. “Our vision is the same – we’re really ready to take off and do some amazing work, so that our high school kids will see success. I’m committed, and I know Kerri is committed, to the work and to each other.”