This is the latest piece in NSNO’s series, “The Future is Bright.” We are profiling incredible educators from across our community. They are helping our students build brighter futures through the work they do each day, and their leadership creates a brighter future for our schools and our city.
Many of these educators are connected through programs NSNO leads for:
Some share a school building, a network, or a mentor. All of them are united in their purpose to give our students the best possible education, and in so doing, build a brighter future for our children and for us all.
Today, we profile Jasmine Jones, Principal of Lafayette Academy Lower School
Jasmine Jones’ Engaged Leadership as Principal of Lafayette Academy Lower School
As a high school student at McDonogh 35 Senior High School, Jasmine Jones worked in a daycare. As a student at Xavier University of Louisiana, Jones served as a tutor, substitute teacher, and worked at aftercare programs across New Orleans public schools. But she didn’t think she wanted to make it her career.
“I always thought, ‘I’m not going into education,” she explains. “But it caught up with me. I guess my plan wasn’t God’s plan. I ended up becoming an educator. I thought I was going to be somebody’s doctor, but clearly, I’m working toward having a doctorate of education.”
She went straight into working in schools, and today she is the principal of Lafayette Academy Lower School. Ending up in this role surprised her a bit, too.
“I also said that I will never go into administration. Maybe I should say I will never be a millionaire and become a millionaire,” she says.
Jones held a number of different roles prior to serving as a principal.
“It’s been a journey,” she says.
After graduating from Xavier, she worked as an “intern” with a math teacher at Gregory Elementary School. After that, she served as a tutor, and then a paraprofessional, at Sci Tech Academy. Then she worked as a paraprofessional at McDonogh No. 42 Charter School.
“I always had people that really pushed me and believed in me,” across these roles, she says.
While at McDonogh No. 42, a math teacher left early in the year, and Jones’ principal identified Jones as the right person to take her place. Jones was stunned and daunted. As a paraprofessional, she generally worked with small groups of students. As a full-time teacher, she’d be taking on a whole class. She’d also never felt confident in math, though she’d had teachers at 35 and Xavier who helped her be successful at it.
“When I was offered the job to be a middle school math teacher, I cried. I cried like a baby. I was like, ‘I can’t be a teacher. I can’t do this.’ There were so many different feelings going through me,” Jones explains. “You know, these kids’ futures, they’re in your hands. The kids need so much outside of just education–the social, emotional, mental piece of it. It was a lot.”
Luckily, Jones’ colleagues knew her well–she’d been with some of them at SciTech–and they were confident she was a good fit.
“Everyone said I could do it. I had worked with several of those people before. They were like ‘yeah, she can do it.’ It was that belief from others that I didn’t have for myself.”
She decided to take the leap. “It was a very hard year, a learning year, but I had a lot of support. And I loved the kids. I really loved working with the kids.”
She ended up using the story of her uncertainty to motivate her students.
“My kids would always say, ‘I hate math. This is hard!’ And I’d say, ‘You know what? I had that same mindset. It was hard. But I had people that supported me and I put in the work.’”
Now she was there to support them.
“I just ended up loving teaching middle school math,” she said. “I love the big babies–they were truly big babies. One minute they wanted to be grown and then the next minute they wanted you to hug on them and treat them like a baby. They really made for an enjoyable learning and teaching experience for me.”
In 2019, Jones moved to Lafayette Academy Lower School to serve as assistant principal and became the full-time principal in 2021. Jones believes in a hands-on approach to leadership. Her job involves meetings and emails, she says, but for much of the day, she’s directly interacting with her students and staff.
“It’s all hands on deck supporting our kids and making sure that they get the things that they need,” she explains.
Jones also tutors students herself for the last hour of every day. She loves having time with the students, and she also feels it’s part of her leadership role.
“I believe once a teacher, always a teacher, so I want my kids to know that they have a leader that’s gonna always be there, and for my teachers, they have a leader that’s going to be in the trenches with them, and I’m not above telling them to do something, and not showing them how it’s supposed to look,” she says.
Just as Jones’ colleagues and educators helped build her confidence to this point, she hopes to build the confidence of her students. Every morning, the entire school recites different affirmations. Three fifth graders read an affirmation over the loudspeaker, and in every classroom, students repeat after them, sentence by sentence.
She shares an example: ‘Today is a new day. We do not live in our past mistakes, we learn to grow from them. And today is going to be excellent. Today is going to be great.’
Jones says that during “restorative conversations” with students who have made a mistake in some way, they return to the affirmation.
“It’s an opportunity to say, ‘you know, think about what we said this morning. This was a bad judgment call on your part, but it was a learning experience,’” she explains. “You’re not a failure’…just giving them an opportunity to just grow from their mistake.”
This is a philosophy Jones holds in her own life, too. And over the past two years, she’s been able to be open about her wins and setbacks with a small group of other new school leaders through NSNO’s Novice Leader Academy (NLA). Together with nine other principals, she engages in professional development, personal coaching, and opportunities to socialize and learn informally from one another.
“I’ve been happy to be in a group with other principals, just to hear stories and solutions on how to fix the different problems that we all are facing,” she says.
She says that the ability to connect and troubleshoot is key.
“The other principals in this cohort are ladies I talk to on the regular now. And I can go to them and say, ‘Hey, you know, this is my struggle. Can you support me?’ And they call me and can say, ‘Hey, this happened today. What is your outlook on it?’ So the Novice Leaders Academy has been great with us being able to develop these relationships. And really bringing us together to solve some of the biggest issues, because we’re all dealing with some of the same issues,” Jones says.
The relationships matter to her the most.
“I think the biggest thing is sometimes we feel like we’re on an island alone,” she says. “It’s great to be able to communicate with other principals, just developing a partnership with schools in our city and letting us know we’re not all by ourselves.”
Because of the NLA, she feels less alone.
“We are in this together,” she says.