Jefferson Looks Forward to a Challenging Year

 

Dr. Jason Jefferson, who is starting his first full year as principal of Park View High School, knows he’s facing multiple challenges in the coming months.

He’s ready for them.

“Park View – like every high school in America – is going to have two ninth-grade classes, whether we want to accept it or not,” said Jefferson, a seasoned educator who spent the last seven years serving as an administrator in Baltimore City Public Schools. “Our 10th-graders have never been in this building before, neither have the actual ninth-graders. The 11th-graders have been here only half a year. That’s not an issue that is unique to Park View. That’s an issue every high school is going to have. We’re going to have to be prepared for them. You’re talking about re-schooling kids.”

Jefferson said educators will be charting a path during the next two to four years about how learning will look for the next 10 to 15 years. “It’s going to have to be different and we’re going to have to be flexible with that...but you have to keep in mind why you are being flexible. You’re not being flexible just so you don’t have to do the things other schools are doing. You’re being flexible because of the needs of the kids.”

Jefferson said he is data-driven in evaluating students, but only to a point.

“There’s a story behind each and every kid. I want names. I want a list of the names and the stories behind them.” Jefferson said he wants to get to the “why” of things. “I know the demographics. I know the population and the culture, to an extent. I know I can do the work. My skill set can move the work here. This is my niche.”

Jefferson, who became Park View’s principal on May 25, knows that flexibility is essential for success at his new school. “The kids in my building, a lot of them work, not because they want to but because they have to. There’s a language barrier. There are traumas they’ve gone through. We have to find a way to reach them where they are.

“Park View kids are not like other Loudoun County kids,” says Jefferson. “We have to embrace the fact that we are the only Title 1 high school in Northern Virginia – not just in Loudoun – but in Northern Virginia. We have the chance to chart how this ship looks.”

Embracing challenging schools has been a hallmark of Jefferson’s career. He has served in Baltimore’s Office of Turnaround Schools. “Park View is not a turnaround school in the sense of what I am used to doing. Park View does need some structural alterations.”

Those structural alterations include changing how assistant principals and guidance counselors work with the students they oversee. Typically, administrators are assigned students based on an alphabetical model. Jefferson will begin cohorting his students this year. Each grade level will have two counselors and those counselors will work only with those students. The maximum caseload for any counselor will be 220 students, below the state-recommended level. Counselors will move with students throughout their career at Park View. The same will hold true for the assistant principals. (Because there is one fewer assistant principal than grade levels, Jefferson will work with one cohort.)

Jefferson said this model is much like a middle school house system. “It’s proven and it works. The two biggest areas are grade nine and grade 12. If you can get a student to pass English 9 it increases his chance at graduation by 50 percent.”

A graduation coach will work with grades 11 and 12 to see where students are in relation to graduation. Seniors will have “on-track to graduate conferences'' throughout the first semester of their senior year. Those in danger of not graduating will use APEX, an online program that Jefferson had experience using in Prince George's County, Md. and Baltimore.

Jefferson and the graduation coach will see students through the successful completion of courses.

The agenda for Jefferson’s principalship is aggressive. That doesn’t mean it is joyless. “This job is stressful. But you have to learn to smile and, more importantly, you have to learn to laugh.”

While he’s spent the majority of his two-decade educational career in Maryland, Jefferson is originally from Southwest Philadelphia. “My life is not the picture of the majority of people who I grew up with; but I’m not afraid to fight. My life wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t extremely hard. I didn’t grow up in the projects, or anything like that. We had a huge family support system.”

A major influence during his childhood years were his grandparents, Charles and Lucinda Powell. They moved to Philadelphia from south of Atlanta during the 1920s because of racial issues. Jefferson’s grandmother only went to second grade, never learned to read, but could sign her name. She worked as a domestic and babysat Jefferson and his six siblings while their parents worked. “If we acted up, we were Miz Powell’s grandchildren and we knew we were going to get it,” Jefferson said.

And when her grandchildren got home, Lucinda Powell made sure they got out their books and started their “lessons.” “She always called it ‘lessons,’ never ‘homework.’”

When he finished his doctoral dissertation, Jefferson was given an oil painting that is the centerpiece of his home office. It depicts his grandmother in her best finery and him in his doctoral regalia. “Who thought that her grandson would have a doctorate and work in a school like this?

 “It is humbling.”

 

 

 

 

Published July 27, 2021