Video and Story: Heart of our city – Sandra Jones

Retiring superintendent of School District 52 reflects on a long career and looks forward to a well deserved break

Student, teacher, counselor, administrator, vice principal, principal and ending up as the self described “super nintendo,” of School District 52, Sandra Jones is retiring.

“It’ll be tough not to think about learning and school after doing it for so long,” Jones said, while sitting in her nearly empty office, “but I have other interests and want a smaller and more peaceful life.”

Born in Melbourne Australia, Jones grew up in a working class family and was the first person in her family to attend university. Her decision to become a teacher was based off of what she knew growing up.

“I lived in a neighbourhood where there were no professional people, so what did I know?” she asked aloud, “I knew teachers.”

After graduation, Jones sought adventure and her quest for adventure took her over two thousand kilometers to the centre of the island nation to end up in Alice Springs.

It was there she met a man named Larry Hope, a teacher on an exchange from Prince Rupert. They fell in love and due to a desire for further adventure, the couple headed back to Prince Rupert.

“It was August of 1981 when I arrived on the shores of Digby Island,” she said laughing. “I was a substitute for the first year and then I got a job because of my music degree.”

A trained pianist, Jones had to learn guitar and wind instruments to instruct students at PRSS and then Booth Memorial School.

“I did my best,” she said, adding that she eventually became an English teacher, which she felt more comfortable doing.

Returning to Australia on another teacher exchange, Jones felt the pull so many feel when they visit this city.

“I wasn’t quite finished with Prince Rupert,” she said.

When she returned to SD 52, she took a job at the now defunct Booth Memorial School.

“It was the best place to work. Ever,” she said. “I loved it there. Some very cool young teachers, incredible educational leaders.”

She served as department head at the school in a couple of departments before making the jump to the next role in her career.

“I was asked to be a counselor,” she said, “and I thought ‘that seems like hard work.’”

She received her Master’s Degree in counseling psychology and returned to the district, working with students in a more personal way.

After the Booth school was torn down, Jones went on to be part of the first team of staff to work at the newly opened Charles Hays Secondary School, where she served as a counselor for a few years.

Never intending to become a principal, let alone superintendent of the district, Jones credits the staff and mentors she had over the years as the prime reason she moved from being a counselor, to administrator, vice principal, assistant superintendent acting superintendent to being named superintendent in July 2013.

“The people I’ve worked with throughout my career set me on the course that landed me here,” she said. “Their influence and inspiration took me to this place.”

Jones’ inspired approach to education was not lost on the people who hired her.

“We are very excited to find that the best candidate for the [for the job] was Sandra Jones,” said then board Chair Tina Last at the time, “We look forward to her contribution to the district in her new role.”

Despite her success in working with the district, Jones lights up as she speaks about her love of teaching.

“It was never my goal,” she said, “It’s not like I sat there and said to myself, ‘I’m going to become a principal,’ because I loved teaching.”

When you view the signatures in her high school year books you very quickly see that her students loved her too.

“You were the best principal and a good mentor,” reads a message by Denele, “The ‘fork dorks’ love you, and will miss you.”

Another message reflects her kindness, which shines through the moment you meet her.

“Thanks so much for taking me into your fold,” says a message by Tristan Fox, “You made Rupert a home for me.”

Now that she’s looking back at a lifetime of dealing with students, the different fads, like the Rubick’s Cube scare of the 80s, Game Boys and now fidget spinners, Jones says that children are basically the same.

“I don’t think kids these days are largely different to kids any days,” she said. “They do have technology strapped to their hands all the time, but scratch the surface. They’re still kids, they still care about each other, they still care about their families. They still want to be loved and understood.”

“Kids these days are just as wonderful as they ever were.”

Don’t let Jones’ smile fool you into thinking she’s not one of the strongest people you’ll ever meet. She battled and beat breast cancer a few years back and kept on working while receiving treatment.

“The only time I take off really was when I had five hours of chemotherapy and I couldn’t be at work,” she said, “although I would often be working on my iPad and answering emails, which people thought was hilarious.”

Where will Jones when the 2017/2018 school year starts?

“On my terrace in Barcelona [Spain],” she said. “Depending on the time of day, I might be having a cup of coffee or I might be having a glass of sangria.”

Well deserved Miss Jones. Well deserved indeed.