Ashley Jackson is a morning person. The first-year principal at Bill Brown Elementary (BBES) wakes up at 4 a.m. and is at school by 6, ready to prepare for a new day. Unlike other early risers, she doesn’t need a cup of coffee to get her moving before the crack of dawn. Students and teachers are her caffeine. Even a pandemic, in her first year on the job, can't temper her energy and enthusiasm for leading a school.
It was an early morning back in college when the idea of being a principal first donned on Ashley. She changed her major, graduated three years later, and found her way to Comal ISD. After five years teaching at Garden Ridge Elementary and three years as an assistant principal at Johnson Ranch Elementary, she stepped into her dream job at BBES.
As Comal ISD recognizes National School Principals’ Day on May 1, we celebrate the hard work and commitment of Ashley and the district’s 33 principals. Learn more about Ashley and the role of a principal in this Q&A.
What made you want to be a principal?
I’m not a rash decision maker. I was studying business my first year of college, not exactly sure what area I would end up in. I was taking an accounting course my first summer I was home. I woke up one morning and thought I was in the wrong major. I told myself, “I want to be a principal.” It all made sense. I loved working with children, I had always been involved with camps, swim lessons, and tutoring. I also enjoyed working with adults, facilitating and leading. I changed my major the next day. I never make decisions like that, but in my gut, I knew that impromptu thought was right. The role of a principal encompassed everything I wanted – working with students and adults. I could feel it in my bones. This was it.
As a teacher, what steps did you take to become a principal?
When I first started working at Garden Ridge Elementary, I told my principal, Joni Coker, and mentor teacher, Julie Cronkite, “one day, I want to be a principal. I want to teach, but I want you to teach me everything you know about leading,” and I began taking on leadership roles from my first year on. I was in the first Comal ISD Leadership Academy and sat on any committee I could to learn more about the district, other schools, and leaders. I took advantage of everything I could to figure out if this is the path I wanted to be on, and then it was all about experience.
What does it take to be a good principal?
You have to be a listener. This job requires you to listen to so many different people on so many different levels, from kindergarteners, to parents, to staff, to the district office. You have to be able to communicate effectively. If you can’t listen and you can’t communicate, it will all fall apart. Those are two huge pillars to make this a success.
The kids have to know who you are. My favorite part of the day is morning announcements. I love them. All day, every day, the kids say, “I saw you on morning announcements. You talked about this on the morning announcements. You wished me a happy birthday.” Because of everything with the pandemic, wearing masks and social distancing, I’m not around them as much as I would want to be. Morning announcements is really an important connection piece. Even the remote kids see me every morning. This time is all about celebrations and what’s going on in the school. It’s just 10 minutes of awesomeness about the campus. We start each day on a positive note.
How did the pandemic affect you in your first year as a principal?
It was challenging, but it’s still been an absolutely amazing year. I wouldn’t wish to do this year over again, even if it came without a pandemic. This year taught me a lot. In this role, you have to be adaptable. Sometimes you're given a message late in the evening and you’ve got to figure out how the next morning is going to look. The skills that I learned this year will be skills that I’ll treasure forever. If you can get through this, you can make it.
What does a typical day at BBES look like for you?
I’m an early riser. I get here at 6 a.m. It’s my time to gather myself, prepare, and figure out my priorities for the day. This is also my time to reflect on what the campus needs. Once the clock hit’s 7 a.m., I’m in the front hall greeting students as they enter the building. Then it’s on to morning announcements, with student celebrations, shout-outs, and fun positive phone calls home. Then you’ll find me in classrooms – that’s a big piece of what I like to do. I meet with teachers, parents, my admin team and special programs staff. Each day is a lot of multi-tasking, prioritizing, and delegation. There are the needs of students, staff, and parents that constantly arise – you have to figure it all out, provide the needed support, and I love it!
What is your biggest challenge?
I would say the biggest challenge has been learning the students, staff, and community with masks, social distancing, and safety protocols all through this pandemic. When I started in the summer, I met my staff on a screen. Then, when we came in person, we were all masked. Once students arrived, they were also masked. The real challenge was trying to get to know people through all of the safety guidelines and social distancing. I’m used to be the smiling person in the front hall giving hugs and high fives. This was definitely a change.
What keeps you coming back for more every day?
The students and staff. Seeing the success of the students and staff both together and individually is what this job is all about. Watching the growth, collaboration, and success of every individual on campus is what truly brings me joy.