School Leader Dr. Marsha Jones
Whenever I interview a great school leader, they all seem to have certain attributes in common. Among those traits are amazing energy, ways to creatively figure out how best to use what they have, as well as ways to get more for students and staff. They are unstoppable, and they all use the words, “my kids” and “my teachers” when referring to those attending their schools. They are exceptional, and electric in conversations about education, learning, and instructional technology. Dr. Marsha Jones, middle school principal and leader at the Rick Schneider Middle School in Pasadena ISD, in southeast Houston, TX is no exception.
Dr. Jones is an amazing school leader, and it is my opinion that she could sell the peeling paint off an old barn, back to the farmer, who owned it—if it meant her students and staff would benefit. School leaders like Dr. Jones create learning environments that succeed, against all odds, partly because they always see the odds in their favor. As you’ll discover, she is also an instructional technology pioneer, who has used student data positively and productively—since her earliest teaching assignments. Dr. Marsha Jones is a unique individual, and her staff and students are, in her words, Awesome. Please enjoy learning more about technology and leadership from Dr. Jones.
Rick Schneider Middle School
Rick Schneider Middle School is in Pasadena Independent School District (ISD). The school is an urban school in the City of Houston. The school population is between 850 to 900 students, with almost 90% economically disadvantaged—about 83% are Hispanic, and 13% African American in heritage. It is classified a high minority, and high disadvantaged school. About 250 students are in a bi-lingual program. About 70% of the students live in apartments near the school.
~Dr. Marsha Jones, in her own words:
We opened Rick Schneider Middle School nine years ago. It was the first middle school in Pasadena, TX. Many of my students come from difficult circumstances, but they’re awesome and have academically done well. We’ve never been on any academic safeguard lists. My students are up there, and competing with the rest in our district—at, and sometimes just below state averages—but not too far below.
Interest in Instructional Technology
My interest in instructional technology began when I began teaching, about 25 years ago. We were given a reading program and six computers for the classroom. These big machines took up half the classroom! Still, I thought I was in heaven! I moved my kids around to make them fit. Now, as I look back, most of those programs, at the time, were just instructional worksheets. But then, it was a new and different way for our kids to learn, and they could learn at their individual levels and pace. I loved technology from the start, and the role it played then. I could pull reports, I could send them home to parents, and I could show results to students. I really used the data from those reports to show kids where they stood, and their progress. I just saw how the technology helped my student—and saw the power of that. So, I was an early adopter of technology. I love technology—it’s who I am.
Through the years, I’ve always wanted to get those kinds of technology solutions and tools. I’m in, and have always been in high-poverty schools by choice. I love making sure my kids get those opportunities that other students are getting in terms of access to technology. When we built Rick Schneider Middle School in 2006, we got to set the standard for the district in terms of what a model high-tech school and its classrooms should look like. The elementary principal was asked to do the same thing. When it came time to outfit our schools, though, we were asked if we wanted one, or two Promethean boards for every 4-8 classrooms. Well, we looked at each other and said, “NO!” We want a Promethean board in every classroom, and a document camera in every classroom, too.
Everyone was shocked at our demands. The school designers had to revamp everything. At that time, even new schools were not being wired for that kind of technology in every classroom. They told us that the schools would have to be rewired, and we said, “OK!” I had to give up some furniture that I might have wanted, but I got more technology. I wanted every classroom to have that equitable access to a Promethean board, document camera, projector, and that kind of thing. So, we set the standard that every classroom needed to have that type of technology—back in 2006.
That’s been maintained every since. It felt really great to set that standard and set the bar high from the start. We did flip out the guys working on the building designs for our schools. We showed them what the Promethean boards looked like, and what they could do. We asked, “If it’s your child at my school, and in my classes, which type of classroom would you like your child to go in?” They were sold that technology; connected to the Internet, in a classroom, really set the tone for what we wanted for kids. We were passionate about getting great technology into those new buildings and every classroom. If we’re going to call them state-of-the-arts schools, then we needed to do state-of-the-art technology.
Recently I went to an International Center for Leadership conference, where I attended every one of Eric Sheninger’s sessions. Every breakout session covered a different topic. I was just soaking it all in. I’m on Twitter, and I look at research, as well as issues and trends in education, especially in technology. My social media tended to be a hodgepodge of professional stuff. After hearing Sheninger, I decided to expand the FaceBook page we already had for our school. I knew parents were already there, so it was a way to connect with them in a bigger way at a place with which they were already familiar. In that way we could be more visible in terms of promoting the things happening on our campus. Additionally, I’ve also created a Twitter page for our school, as well as maintaining another, that is more of a professional learning page for my teachers. Attending that conference recharged my technology goals, too.
In my research for my dissertation, on school technology, I discovered, through talking with educators, what it took for leaders to make instructional technology work. I discovered that successful leadership had a lot to do with frequent meetings and help from professional learning communities (PLCs). The less techie teachers could depend on more techie teachers in collaboration. In that way, very traditional teachers moved to the next step, using technology. I found that it takes coming up with good strategies and plans to get there, and to move forward.
I told my staff that my word for 2015 was ‘unstuck’; I told them that we’re stuck and we need to get unstuck! I’ve been in education for a long time, even graduated from this district, and the classrooms haven’t changed enough. So, how can we get that to change? How do we move beyond that, and get unstuck in terms of innovation and technology? In the professional development realm, peer evaluation and interaction is important. That gives teachers more opportunities for reflection, in peer conversations around an important topic, which allows for better strategic planning. That effort is extremely powerful for moving forward.
You know, as well as I, that you can put the best, and highest-quality tech tools in front of teachers, but if they don’t want to use them, they’ll either be underutilized, or educators will go back to the old school ways of doing things without technology. In any plan, teachers’ voice is necessary, they need to be included, and considered, and it makes for better understanding of negotiable and non-negotiable items. I want teachers on board, because they can, and want to be there. All it takes is a spark. I can’t do it all, and I don’t want to. I want to develop leaders, and through them, transform our school for our students into the learners we want to have, and producing the products we want them to create. Together, we can work through all the collected data, to meet the needs of our students best. Technology helps to streamline that for us. It’s the tip of the iceberg, but we must keep pushing forward.
~Dr. Marsha Jones
About the Interviewer:
Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.