When Pamela Jones, then a young educator fresh out of teaching school, learned there was a job opening at J.E.B. Stuart High School, she didn’t exactly jump at the opportunity. She’s now retiring after 34 years at J.E.B. Stuart but in 1978, the Falls Church High School graduate had just earned a teaching degree from Florida’s Saint Leo University in 1977 and was “kind of doing nothing” after graduation, she admits. Her father spurred her on to find work, though, and she applied to Fairfax County Public Schools and began substitute teaching, but would call the human resources office occasionally to inquire about more permanent positions.
It wasn’t long until she got a call from a man from Fairfax County Public Schools with a job opportunity, Jones recalled in an interview with the News-Press. He said it was at J.E.B. Stuart High School, a rival high school to her alma mater.
“I said ‘J.E.B. Stuart?’ He said ‘you don’t want to go to J.E.B. Stuart?’ And all I could think of was my father in the back of my head saying ‘Pamela, it’s time you got a job,’ and so I said ‘no, I’ll take the job,'” Jones said. It was the beginning of what would become a long career with the school, one that the now-principal will be bringing to a close with her retirement this summer.
She endured some ribbing from fellow Falls Church High graduates she had kept in touch with, the word “traitor” playfully tossed around, and it took a couple of years for the former Jaguar to really feel like a Raider, but she stayed on for 34 years, no less, after first being hired in October 1978.
“I never thought I would stay that long at this school, but it’s been a wonderful ride,” Jones said.
She had always wanted to teach, since she was a child, and found her specific teaching interests as a student. Jones volunteered in high school in Civinettes, a junior volunteer club with the Civitan International service group, assisting students with difficulties learning English as a second language, and one student who had disabilities. In her student teaching, Jones requested to work in areas that served migrant workers.
Stuart, it turned out, would be a good fit for Jones. The school, once named the most diverse school in the nation by National Geographic magazine, has earned a reputation for the variety found in the cultural backgrounds of its students, and the school gave her the opportunity to teach special education students when she first signed on.
“I felt like my niche was really here,” Jones said. “I felt that my heart was here, I had the experience, and I put the two together and I loved it. I think that’s why I stayed, because I had the training in my student teaching and I just loved going the extra mile for those kids.”
Jones transitioned from teaching to administration through her career at Stuart, but it was a gradual shift, she said.
She chaired the special education department, opting to still teach her students while performing the duties of that position, but when the department grew, she stopped teaching.
“You miss it because you don’t have the opportunity to be around students as much,” Jones said. “So that’s why you have to find the time to make sure you’re in the halls all the time, and to get out into the cafeteria, and to make sure you’re attending the events where the students are because if you don’t, you don’t get that time. You do miss it.”
Wishing to put her knowledge and many years of special education experience to work as an administrator, Jones went back to school. She stepped in as acting assistant principal overseeing special education, ESOL and literacy, when her predecessor left that post mid-year. After earning her degree from George Mason University in 2002 in educational leadership, Jones was hired as assistant principal.
Four years later, Jones found herself contemplating another administrative position: principal. It wasn’t an easy decision, she admitted, recalling how she weighed the decision to apply until just a few minutes before the application deadline. But again, her desire to use the institutional knowledge she had gained compelled her to tackle the great task of overseeing an entire school.
“I knew the community, I knew the students, I knew the faculty, and I knew the way that this school ran,” Jones said. “I knew the history.”
Since becoming principal in 2006, she’s done much that she’s proud of in service to her students – from providing remediation time during the school day to ensure student success, to making improvements on every athletic field on the school’s campus – but looks forward to time for her own pursuits in retirement.
She’s not yet sure if she’ll be sad to leave the school. It may take that final walk out to her car for it to sink in, she said. She’s certain, though, that she’s ready to go.
“I’ve spent over half of my life here, and I’d like to explore new things,” Jones said, mentioning plans to travel and, she said with a laugh, rest.
“I’ve really dedicated my career to the students at J.E.B. Stuart High School,” Jones said. “I’m glad I did. I wouldn’t have changed anything that I’ve done, but I think that it’s time to move on.”