Maple Street School's new principal brings wealth of experience

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon/Rockville - posted Fri., Sep. 6, 2013
Maple Street School's new principal, Pamela Barker-Jones, has hit the ground running at the start of the school year. Photo by Steve Smith.
Maple Street School's new principal, Pamela Barker-Jones, has hit the ground running at the start of the school year. Photo by Steve Smith.

Maple Street School's new principal is a quick study and intends to pass that sort of learning along to her students. Pamela Barker-Jones began at Maple Street literally two days before students began attending classes on Aug. 28.

Barker-Jones was most recently the assistant superintendent in Windham, and previously was the district administrator in charge of mathematics in both Waterbury and New Haven. Before that, she was a teacher in Hartford.

She also recently completed her certificate for superintendency, but said she felt like she needed a change of pace. “I applied, and interviewed with all the other candidates,” she said. “The parents and teachers all thought I would be a good fit, so here I am.”

She said that while Maple Street's reputation is that of a low-performing school with discipline issues, she saw that as an indication that the job was worth doing. “I came with a completely open mind, and that [reputation] was really insignificant to me,” she said. “The goal is to make sure we're the top of the top. I describe us as a 'diamond in the rough' and we're going to spend the year polishing it, and by end of the year, we're going to be sparkling.”

Barker-Jones added that she feels Maple Street is a great community school and she appreciates that many of the students and families walk to school. She wants to use that sort of feeling as a way to strengthen the bonds that families have with the school.

“In my short tenure here, I've fallen in love with this place,” she said. “I adore it. I adore the children, and I've got some wonderful teachers.”

While the school has “wonderful teachers,” Barker-Jones said the staff has work to do. Among the changes she has already begun implementing is having older students connect with the younger ones. Third-graders now eat lunch seated with kindergartners, fourth-graders with first-graders, and fifth-graders with second-graders, in what is akin to a mentoring opportunity.

“It's a different approach,” Barker-Jones said. “It still needs some work, but the older kids are taking responsibility.”

The Community School program at Maple Street is also being revamped. Barker-Jones said she wants to augment the academic focus of the after-school program, including more reading, math and science programs, and hopes to add more tutors, as well as expanding to include a before-school program.

Her aim is to create a better atmosphere for learning. She said she handled a minor discipline issue with a student by creating a small community service project for that student the following morning, and if behavior is improved for that day, the fifth-grader with the favorite subject of math would be rewarded with algebra lessons.

“That's our deal, and he liked that deal,” she said. “I'm trying to work it so that we are ahead of our behaviors, and to set a tone. I require my students to shake my hand in the morning. We are going to be ladies and gentlemen. We say 'good morning' every morning, and I'm going to be in the classrooms as much as possible.”

In just under a week, Barker-Jones said she has learned about one-third of the students' names, and will know all of them as soon as possible. The staff is already becoming familiar.

“The staff has been fantastic,” she said. “They are more than willing to step up and do whatever I need them to do. It's been a very smooth transition, considering. I think we're doing okay, but we've got a lot to do. We're down to the business of educating our children.”

With 33 years of education experience, Barker-Jones said she is confident in her ability, along with that of the staff and students, to make Maple Street School live up to its potential, and is committed to doing just that.

“I will stay until the job is done,” she said. “As long as the superintendent is happy with what I'm doing, as well as the community, and as long as the children in the school are learning, I will stay.”

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