By Sophia Caputo (’24) and Isaiah Steinberg (’23), with Student Interviews by Tara Thorne (’24)
It’s no secret that it was Principal Lawson who was the mastermind behind J-D’s new mascot. What many people don’t know, though, is the behind-the-scenes work Principal Lawson has done to increase student pride and connection to the school. Not just this, but Lawson has also worked to increase parent engagement and involvement in their child’s education, while also increasing support for educational departments here at J-DHS.
Coming to a new school after his previous position at West Genesee, the transition to J-D wasn’t as easy as Principal Lawson made it seem. Lawson reflects on the beginning of the year by saying, “Being new, that’s an adjustment. I have to establish relationships with students and staff, and in the meantime, I have to do it while performing at the level you all expect. There’s no off day.” Additionally, Lawson expresses how it was his peers, colleagues, and friends who helped make this transition more manageable.
Lawson expresses that the teachers and department chairs at J-DHS in the beginning gave him insight into possible areas of improvement within the school. One issue was the lack of departmental representation within school leadership. Lawson reports, “We’re collaborating with the Jamesville-DeWitt Faculty Association and our district leadership, advocating for new department chairs for our small departments, and most passionately for me, for special education, so those departments have a seat at the table.”
In addition to expansion of leadership within certain departments in the school, a large issue Lawson wanted to address was the issue of student connectivity and pride. He expresses how results from last year’s climate survey indicated that the number of students feeling disconnected from the school were much higher than anticipated. According to Lawson, “We started to listen and work with student leadership to address those things. That’s why we’ve got a mascot. That’s why we’ve got J-D gear. We’re doing those sorts of things so we can increase our connectivity.”
It wasn’t just student connectivity that Lawson wanted to address. He still feels that parent communication and involvement in high school decision making is lacking. Lawson expresses how although ParentSquare has helped increase parent involvement, he wants to create a more engaging and personal setting for parents to express their opinions. He talks about bringing back the formerly-failed Parent-Teacher Group (PTG). Lawson says, “Creating an organization that’s failed in the past is hard. But finding ways to include parent opinion and community opinion in other institutions has been easier. I’m really now starting to find ways to codify that and make it a systemic practice.” For the time being, Lawson has increased parent involvement in various school committees, including the committee to craft a new mission statement and the hiring committee.
Student response to Lawson’s first year has been for the most part overwhelmingly positive. Although some students wish he was more interactive with the student body, others disagree. Junior Elbethel Berhane expresses, “I like how his focus is more on the students, which makes it easier to express our voices. Once you get to know him he’s really fun and open minded.” Senior Zamora McBride admires Lawson’s near-seamless transition in saying, “It takes time to assimilate to a new environment, especially when you’re one of the heads so he’s doing very well.”
With next year in mind, Lawson has some ideas of what he’d like to improve upon. He mentions increasing transparency with families regarding student curriculum. Additionally, he hopes to remodel the front entrance to better communicate with students and enhance student pride. Lawson states, “We’re going to do some work this summer on the entryway in terms of creating an academic hall of fame with plaques and banners that you all have won, and putting them on display in the front display cases. Rebranding a little bit of what it looks like walking into the school with some digital displays and a couple TVs located so we can increase communication passively.”
Even though he aimed to not make too many changes in his first year as principal, Lawson has revised many of the behind the scenes issues facing the school. From parent and student engagement to leadership in the building, he hopes to continue to see these efforts pay off into next year. With Lawson’s first year at J-DHS complete, he is looking forward to continuing to take feedback from students and parents in the future.