When Richardson ISD announced that Dr. Joshua Delich was leaving to become assistant superintendent in Minnesota and Forest Meadow Junior High’s Kerri Jones would replace him as principal at Lake Highlands High, the news came as a surprise to many.
No one was more surprised than Kerri Jones.
Jones earned an MBA and began her career as a recruiter, traveling to college fairs and hiring new graduates to become management consultants. Her engaging manner made her successful at wooing bright young minds to the business world, but an economic downturn brought hiring – and her career – to a screeching halt.
Jones had a friend working as a youth pastor and math teacher who encouraged her to become alternately certified to teach 7th grade math. Besides paying the bills, the job piqued her interest since Jones’ mom had spent many years teaching 7th grade math. Jones figured she’d return to consulting when the economy recovered. That was 18 years ago.
Raised an Army brat, Jones was born at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and schooled on bases in Houston, Germany, San Antonio and New York. Her mom is now a professor at the University of Incarnate Word and her dad owns a consulting company. She met her husband in the singles’ ministry at church, and their daughter, Parker, will enter 5th grade at RISD’s MST (Math, Science and Technology) Magnet in the fall.
Jones and I had lunch at the Lake Highlands Town Center shortly after she accepted her new job, and she shared the winding path that led her straight to LHHS.
Tell me about Lake Highlands.
We don’t live in Lake Highlands, but it’s all I’ve known throughout my career as principal. It’s such a strong community. What’s neat is how many parents went to school in Lake Highlands and some of their parents have. It’s very much a small town in a big city. People are concerned about who educates their kids, and they believe in their community. The low income families and the higher income families come together – perhaps not exactly where they live, but they come together in the schools. It’s a generous community. People want to help each other. Those who are blessed to have want to give back.
Do you see this happening through organizations or individuals?
Both. I see it happening informally, and it’s amazing to see. Much of it happens behind the scenes, and people don’t want credit for it. They just want to help.
Some principals, like corporate CEOs, spend most of their time behind a desk in their office. Is that how you operate?
No. I feel guilty when I’m in the office, so I always keep the door open to see what’s going on. We’re in the halls, we’re in the cafeteria, we’re in the classrooms circulating around. If you’re in the office, you’ll miss things, and the kids will find a way to get to you.
As a high school principal, will that have to change?
My CIP (campus improvement plan) will be bigger, so I’ll have to make more office time, but I’ve got to find that balance.
Will you join the Exchange Club and attend Red White Game and other community events as other LHHS principals have done?
I’ve enjoyed the times I’ve been to Exchange Club. There are always great speakers, and it’s great to go and support the kids. Some of the members are parents of kids I’ve had, and they are always welcoming. I look forward to going to games with my husband and daughter.
You moved around a lot and had lots of teachers and principals over the years. Do you remember them?
I do. At West Point, my teachers were legends. They’d been around forever. Dr. Zenyu was my principal at Highland Falls High School, and he always interacted with us. He was a Navy grad, and he’d decorate the school for the Army-Navy game and talk about it over announcements. He was special.
You’ve received a lot of praise for improvements at Forest Meadow. What’s your secret?
I include the kids in planning – you’d be surprised what kids can do. It’s amazing. You get a bunch of them together and they feed off of each other and they feel empowered and have pride. The challenge is to include everybody. You can’t just go to the student council officers and the national junior honor society officers and the athletes all the time. You have to pull in the quiet kids who never get noticed.
When I went with you last year to the high school, we could barely walk down the all without kids interrupting us to give you a hug. Will it help that so many students already know you?
Yes, and I’m hoping they’ll tell their friends I’m okay (laughing).
What will you do first?
Get to know the teachers. It’s neat, because I sent them an email saying I’d taken the job and encouraging them to write back and tell me something about themselves, and several already have. I want to get to know them and the kids and just observe – not change anything. I wouldn’t even know what to change. Delich put in some really good systems, like hall monitoring and walk-throughs and observations, and he stressed “they’re all our kids,” and not “you have 9th grade A-E.” The most important thing is to get to know them and let them get to know me.
You’re the 6th LHHS principal in 12 years. Do you plan to stay?
I’m in a group called PIC – Principal’s Impact Collaborative – and they’re working to fight principal burnout, which is interesting. I’m very loyal. I’ve not looked anywhere else. I taught 5 years in Dallas ISD and I’ve been in RISD since. I’m not going anywhere, and I don’t like to start something and then leave. I like to accomplish a goal.
You have a background in recruiting. What will be your sales pitch to recruit the best and brightest teachers to LHHS?
I’ll talk about the tradition in our community, the parental support you’re going to have, the fact that people trust us to serve their kids and the fact that they may have gone to the school themselves, so there’s a deep history there. You can’t find a better community.
What are you most looking forward to when that first bell rings?
I want to see what’s different between the freshmen and the seniors. Do seniors even want interaction with the principal or are they “over it”? Do they want recognition in the classroom for going above and beyond? Do they want to come to my office and have their picture taken for the newsletter? I’m very curious. I’m also excited to see what’s going on in the classrooms of these legends like Mr. (David) Wood and Mr. (John) Moore – teachers who have been here so long, who I’ve heard so much about. That’s history.
What will be your message to parents at the first open house?
I’m going to do what’s best for your kids. I’m going to work with staff and faculty and parents and kids to make sure they get the best they can get. With everything I do, I use my “mom brain” and ask – would I want this for my daughter?
Jones’ responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.