Kootenay Lake School District Superintendent Jeff Jones has renewed his contract for five years and will continue in his role until July 2019. The decision was approved at the board meeting last Tuesday.
“I think in the role of the superintendent you have to determine whether or not the skills and strengths you offer can continue to be maintained,” said the 52-year-old Nelsonite, who ultimately hopes to remain in the Kootenays long-term.
“I love the area, I’m comfortable with the work and I think we’re accomplishing great things,” he said.
The Star sat down with Jones recently to find out how he feels about his first four years in the role, and what he has in store for the school district.
WHO IS JEFF JONES?
Born in Utah, Jones spent most of his life in Alberta, mainly in Calgary and Red Deer. He took his first teaching role at a K-6 school, teaching grade 4 with a specialty in theatre and music.
From there he moved to Curry Elementary School, which at the time was on a Calgary military base.
“It was an important experience for me because over 90 per cent of the students had one or more parents serving in active duty. I learned it takes a village to raise a child, and the level of supports that need to be in place. Learners are at their best when there’s a connectedness to adults that are part of their lives,” he said.
Jones ultimately worked with the Calgary Board of Education for 23 years, starting in 1987 and ending when he moved to Nelson in 2010.
During that time he pursued further education, served as an assistant principal, a principal and then in the office of the superintendent.
“I was invited to help with some of the challenges and I was given the opportunity to learn and think at the level of CEO,” Jones said.
Jones was then given the chance to put that learning into practice. Having gotten married in 2009, the superintendent job posting was a perfect opportunity to move closer to his husband Alex’s family in the Kootenays.
Though he doesn’t have children, Jones noted that he currently has 9 nieces and nephews as well as over 5,000 students in the district under his charge.
THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION
According to Jones, the public school system is in the midst of a major overhaul. Teaching strategies and established educational paradigms are being challenged.
“Rather than memorization of knowledge, I think we should be assessing student ability to demonstrate skills and competencies they’re going to need. We have to ask can they work collaboratively? Can they represent knowledge in many different ways?”
For example, projects like book reports should now utilize existing technology.
“You don’t only have to know how to write a book report, you also have to use a variety of different technologies to share and make it public,” he said.
He said innovation is the key.
“And when I say innovation, it’s not the new and shiny stuff. It’s the transformation to meet the changing needs of our learners,” he said.
For instance, experiential learning initiatives that have been established in early childhood education are now continuing as students head into the public school system.
Jones would like to see more locally developed courses and independent projects worked into the curriculum.
“Students aren’t on a trajectory that’s linear. Rather, they’re going to have a mentorship or a travel experience, they’re going to go out and do work experience. It’s about putting all those pieces together,” he said.
The school district hopes to follow the United Nations’ global sustainability goals, which were introduced two years ago.
“There are fifteen goals, things like ending poverty, achieving gender equality, switching to modern energy…these are the areas the students are going to be emerging into as adults in a global world, and they’ll need to be able to contribute in these areas either locally or globally.”
Students could also be working with experts worldwide during their time in school.
“Rather than relying on face to face teaching, we could be learning from people all over the world. Students can be connected by Skype with world-renowned experts on a number of different topics worldwide.”
GOALS FOR THE KIDS
Jones said it’s crucial that the school district continue to adapt to changing learning environments.
“One of the things I want to look at is continued work towards students being leaders of learning. It’s a shift in thinking,” he said.
Under this new strategy, students would communicate what they hope to learn and the teachers would facilitate that. In some cases, this may involve taking on larger projects not traditionally associated with school. Jones said he’s particularly proud of students from Crawford Bay and Mt. Sentinel who have done volunteer work in Mexico.
“We see it over and over again, students making tremendous contributions,” he said.
Jones said this doesn’t mean the old curriculum will go out the window.
“There are particular skills and basic knowledge they have to have, in order to properly communicate, but it’s more about experience and students being able to find their way through a problem, which is a continuation of the early learning theories,” he said.
Jones hopes to introduce new departments that encourage independent learning and innovative services.
“Independent learning services aligns an array of learning opportunities including supports for students with unique or special learning needs, and the support required for learning chooses that include distance learning, home learning, learning within the community and so forth,” he said.
His primary goals during his time as superintendent will be to establish a culture of students leading learning and building awareness of global sustainability.
BUILDING COMMUNITY PRIDE
Jones’ years at the helm of the Kootenay Lake School District have been tumultuous, and he has had to navigate a number of job actions and strikes during his tenure.
“It’s easy for me to do the work when I know decisions are being made in the best interest of the kids,” he said. “But the pressure comes when I feel external challenges that make it difficult to align resources based on the needs of the students.”
During this time, Jones has developed a transparent process that he hopes will engage community members. That includes introducing online means for engaging stakeholders and seeking input.
“We’ve worked very hard to establish transparent processes and engage parents in some of our challenging problems,” he said.
That includes making decisions about facilities and grounds that are not currently being used. The board is currently seeking feedback from the community on how to proceed.
Another priority is child poverty.
“We’re focused on how to attend to the challenge of poverty that’s being experienced by our children in the district,” he said.
Solving that issue will involve everyone in the community, he said.
“I know the majority of adults don’t have children in school, but the public school belongs to us all,” he said.