Jason Jones has been walking the halls in Sunflower School for three years. Even with nearly 500 students at the southwest Lawrence elementary school, he knows the name of each student. And while he’s an authority figure, none of the youngsters is afraid to strike up a conversation with their principal.
A lot of that has to do with the Sunflower Buck program that Jones carried over when he started leading the school. Students earn “Sunflower Bucks” by being good and they can buy time with their principal. It’s one thing Jones says he’s going to miss the most as he leaves the school at the end of the year.
“I’m able to have those positive interactions with students,” he said.
During his time at Sunflower, Jones, 33, implemented a bullying prevention program and opened the doors to becoming an English as a Second Language site.
“This is the first year we are providing those supports within the Sunflower building versus sending our students to another building,” Jones said. “It’s very rewarding to be able to see the gains that students are making and those personal relationships.”
Jones is leaving Sunflower for a job as a behavioral outcome support specialist for the Southeast Kansas Education Service Center, commonly known as Greenbush. He’ll be based in Topeka and working with the STAY project, which stands for Supporting Teachers and Youth.
“I’m able to support not only teachers within one school district, but the entire state of Kansas,” Jones said of the newly created position. “I’ll have a greater impact within the field of education.”
While he’s moving on to a job that appeals to him professionally, that doesn’t mean those teachers he’s been encouraging and helping at Sunflower are ready for him to move on.
“Selfishly, I was very sad,” said resource teacher Sheryl Simmons. “But at the same time, I’m happy for him as he makes this change in his career. This is a wish for him that’s come true.”
Jones, however, says that he’s a part of the Sunflower family and that won’t change. He’s already looking ahead to scheduling classroom reading time next year.
“What makes a school is not the principal,” Jones said. “What makes a school are the teachers, the students and the families.”
But teachers saw the impact Jones had on the school the moment he stepped through the door.
“We’re going to miss his aura and presence of being kind and helpful and being best for kids,” said Tammy Valencia, a second-grade teacher. “I wish him luck because he has brought so much here that I hope he can take that with him where else he goes and shine like he did here.”
The search for a new principal has begun. Superintendent Randy Weseman says principal searches usually are conducted on a regional basis. He said parents and teachers will be involved in the selection process.
The district on Thursday completed interviews for the principal position at Lawrence High School. Steve Nilhas announced in January that he would leave the district at the end of the school year.
— Education reporter Lindsey Slater can be reached at 832-6322.