Dr. M. Louise Jones stepped into her role as principal of McKinley Middle School and McKinley Technology High School (MTHS) during the summer of 2013 with the understanding that both schools, by virtue of being in the same building, would be connected like what has been for the District’s education campuses.
Nearly a decade later, a newly retired Jones said that, when it comes to the Northeast-based schools, that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
In making her assertion, Jones pointed to how MTHS’ application-based high school model and McKinley Middle Schools’ designation as a neighborhood school separated both institutions and created a workload unlike what other principals experienced.
“Every meeting that’s required for school, I had to do twice. Every piece of paper, like school improvement plans, payroll and financial records, I had to do twice,” Jones said.
In January, Jones, who cited a lack of support, notified D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Lewis Ferebee about her intention to retire before the end of the school year in an email she said went unacknowledged. By April 1, when she officially stepped down from her role, Jones’ status had still been in limbo, to the point where she might not receive her pension for several months as DC Human Resources works through its backlog.
In the months leading up to her decision to retire, Jones spent almost every waking moment balancing her obligations to both school programs, COVID-19 tracing and, later, preparing for a transition in leadership. Doing so, she said, kept her away from her family during the weeknights and weekends.
“It was very time-consuming and the meetings were in competition with one another,” Jones said. “You’re trying to delegate and you’re disappointing someone. Students and teachers want to see you at every meeting and event and it’s impossible.”
Officials in DCPS central office have stated they will keep the current one-principal model in place at the McKinley campus. Last week, they met with community members to explain the principal selection process, which includes an interview with a community panel in early May. A community member told The Informer that DCPS wants to limit the panel to 10 community members.
There remains the question of whether McKinley’s interim principal, Dr. Kimbria Jackson, has been included in the candidate pool or if DCPS’ central office has already decided to appoint her as the next principal.
Meanwhile, Jones, a former administrator with more than 30 years of experience, prepares to move from her Dumfries, Virginia, home to North Carolina. She has also embraced leisurely walks, volunteering at her church, and a budding relationship with her new puppy.
Jones continues to reflect on the actions and feedback of DCPS central office administrators who she said often disregarded on-the-ground conditions that prevented her from simultaneously attending morning and afternoon meetings for both schools.
In regard to victories, Jones said her supervisor rarely acknowledged them. Additionally, the substitutes and COVID-19 coordinators DCPS central office promised never came to fruition.
For Jones, one principal shouldn’t have to endure such treatment, especially amid a pandemic where COVID-19 mitigation responsibilities and behavioral problems remained commonplace at the two schools and placed a strain on teacher and staff morale.
“It wasn’t fair to parents, students and staff,” Jones said.
“When you factor in COVID tracing, athletics, professional development, budgets, and IMPACT evaluations with both schools, it’s hard to manage and it’s a stupid model,” she added. “I’ve said that from the beginning and my hope is that the DCPS central office would wise up and put two people in the position. That’s what’s staff and parents want.”