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Five Questions With … Dr. Joey Jones, Principal at Robert Frost Middle School

October 22, 2013

Joey JonesThis week’s five-question interview is with Dr. Joey Jones, who has been principal at Robert Frost for 12 years. The fifth of six children, he grew up in a close-knit family in Reidsville, N.C. His parents were both factory workers (his mom worked in a plastics factory; his father in a cigarette factory). He works long hours as a middle school principal, but tries to leave by 4 on Mondays because that’s ‘Family Day’ in the Jones household. He spends time with his wife Kinta (also an educator) and three girls, helps with homework and, in his words, is “not thinking about any other thing.”

Why did you go into education?

I was very interested in basketball. When I realized I was not going to make it to the NBA, I thought I could still be a basketball coach. If I went into teaching, I could coach too. Once I got in the classroom, I found my passion. I enjoyed the planning and being around young people.

I got a degree in technology education at North Carolina A&T State University, and a master’s in public school supervision, administration and technology at N.C. A&T. In the summers, I worked construction and I was working under a carpenter who was a technology instructor at A&T. He’s the one who suggested I go ahead and get my Ph.D. He did some research and gave me this list of Ph.D. programs in technology: Minnesota, New Mexico, N.C. State, Georgia Tech, Maryland. I started calling them. Maryland was the only school that took the call. I called during lunch and the person who answered the phone was the dean. He said, ‘Are you really interested?’ I told him I was. And I came up for a visit. He offered me a fellowship.

After four or five years, I interviewed for the position of Robert Frost principal. I didn’t know much about Robert Frost. It was a panel with 20-25 people. Someone just told me: ‘Be yourself.’

Then my family and I left for a vacation in N.C. They selected me but I didn’t find out until four or five days later. I was tuned out; I was on vacation. I happened to check my email at the Holiday Inn where we were staying. I came back to Rockville, packed up my things and went to Frost.

So the whole journey started because of basketball?

I wanted to coach, but when I went into administration, I had to make a choice.

I grew up a UNC fan. I did some coaching at the junior high level; I coached football, basketball and track. I was also a Maryland fan, going back to Mo Howard, Len Elmore and those guys.

I still try and play basketball. When I first came to Frost, I ruptured my patella tendon. It was March 24, and we were practicing for the student/staff basketball game, which was the next day. We were doing layups. I made a turn and I heard a pop. The tendon shattered.

I’ve had five surgeries in six years. I was on crutches my first five years here. I’ve played in the game the last six years. So now, I’m competitive. I do play smarter.

What character traits do you need to be an effective middle school principal?

You need to understand the development and growth of middle schoolers. Sixth graders are different from seventh graders, and seventh graders are different from eighth graders. Sixth graders need more nurturing, more patience. Seventh graders are in the middle of the middle. One day, they’re like sixth graders and the next they’re like eighth graders, wanting to be adults but not really adults. They’re like waves in the ocean. You’ve got to be able to flow with them. For eighth graders, you’ve got to challenge them to be good role models. Sometimes they can get a little squirrely, but most of the time, they come through.

You have to be a good listener to staff, students and parents. You have to understand the needs and be able to take action. Leadership is something you do with a person, not to a person. I think Jeanie Dawson said that.

You have to communicate a vision that everyone can identify with and contribute to. “Experience Excellence,” that’s our school vision for students, staff, parents and our school community. It’s a challenge at times. At least we know the direction we’re going in.

What is your favorite thing about the job?

There are never two days alike. You never know what challenge you’re going to face. The students keep you young. You always know the latest trends, the most popular things. They keep you fresh. I have three daughters—in third, fifth and seventh grades. I stay young 24/7.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I like to read. I go to church. I like to fix things. I’m always fixing things around the house, even when they’re not broken. I love to travel. This summer, we went on a road trip. Usually, we go to Rehoboth. But this year, my oldest daughter wanted to go to Tennessee. So we drove one end to the other. Bristol, Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis, all the way to the Mississippi River. We’d stop at different attractions. My number one place to visit is St. Maarten in the Caribbean. Half the island is French; half is Dutch. The food is good. It’s peaceful.

I’m also a motivational speaker. I speak to youth; I speak to people who work with youth.

I wrote a book. It’s on Amazon. It’s called 100 Percent, The Power of Giving Your All. I started a publishing company and started learning about that. I started researching success stories and put them into a book. It’s a quick read; it’s easy to understand. One of my reviews on Amazon said it’s kind of ‘elementary.’ I thought, ‘Yes it is. This would be good for youth!’

Why write a book? It’s just achieving a goal. It’s been in my heart for some time to write a book. I didn’t know what I was going to write on. For 18 months, I spent 30 minutes a day writing. I would not go to sleep until I spent at least 30 minutes. Sometimes, it turned into an hour; sometimes, it turned into two. On days I didn’t feel like writing, I would read or do research.