Ever since he was young, Ben Jones knew he wanted to be an elementary school principal.
While others wanted to be astronauts, firefighters, doctors and everything else under the sun, Jones wanted to be just like his favorite teachers that put so much care and love into his schooling.
“I knew when I was younger because I had so many great teachers myself,” he said. “I can remember all my teachers who loved me, cared for me and made learning exciting. I wanted to share that.”
So this year when former Shiloh Point Elementary School Principal Derek Hershey moved to Sawnee Elementary and Jones stepped up to head the school, it was a dream come true.
“What’s amazing to me is you have this dream and it finally came to fruition,” Jones said. “It’s just amazing to be sitting in this chair, to be sitting here, and just so fortunate to be in such a great place.”
Over the last 15 years Jones has been an educator at various schools in Forsyth County, moving from teaching at Liberty Middle School to assistant principal positions at Silver City Elementary and South Forsyth Middle School.
Before that, Jones worked his way through undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees at the University of Georgia, Kennesaw State University and Georgia Southern University.
Through all that learning, work and experience, Jones said his passion for education has only grown, developing into a purpose that harkens back to the love and care teachers showed him way back when he was a student.
“As I moved on and as I got older it became more of a purpose thing, like ‘What am I going to do? What kind of impact am I going to have on the world?’” he said. “I feel like this avenue, this vehicle of education is just a great way to impact the world in a positive manner.”
At Shiloh Point, he said that they have a saying — “What’s your why?” Or, why do you do what you do? And for him, education is that “why.”
And to hear him speak about it, over the past months of the new school year, students and staff have made that purpose very easy for him, showing a culture and eagerness for learning that educators dream of.
“It’s been great,” he said. “Shiloh Point is a great place. Derek Hershey, who was here before, and all the principals that were here before have done just a fantastic job. This place is a culture of learning.”
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Short- and long-term goals
Jones said that one of his main priorities coming to Shiloh Point was to preserve that culture and expand on it, making Shiloh “the place to be” where students want to come to school and teachers want to come to work.
“We want them running into school, not running out of school,” he said with a laugh.
In the long term, Jones and his staff want to keep working on different ideas like personalized learning, social-emotional learning, mastery-based learning and authentic learning, which “meet kids where they are and move them to where they need to be,” give students real experiences to learn from rather than from a worksheet or textbook and teach the whole child.
“We’ve taken self-awareness and self-management and really broken those down [to] what that looks like in all the grade levels,” Jones said of social-emotional learning. “What does it look like for a kindergartener to be self-aware? What does it look like for a fifth-grader to be self-aware? What are the differences there? What do we want to see the progression be? And how do we implement that in everything that we do here at Shiloh?”
Challenges and takeaways from the first months
As an experienced assistant principal, Jones said that his biggest challenge over the last few months has been moving from focusing on day-to-day operations to the bigger picture at a school.
“Being able to do that is different for me, because as an assistant principal you get so busy with day to day tasks, and it’s just part of what you do, and it’s absolutely necessary,” he said. “But sitting here is different because I have three amazing assistant principals who do an amazing job, so we trust them completely and I get the pleasure of thinking about culture, climate and big-picture things. And our five-year plan.”
Jones said that becoming principal at the school takes him back to being a first-year teacher again, with so much to learn and so many questions to ask.
With those questions and things to learn, he said that he’s had loads of support from county administration and other principals.
“I have wonderful mentors that I can pick up the phone and call any time,” he said. “If there’s any challenge that comes, I’m so fortunate to have some great people in Forsyth County who can help me.”