Getting ready for the second year of the Jones Leadership Academy, principal Dr. Ward Barnett is zeroing in on how the school is going to live out its mission of developing Toledo's next generation of leaders.

"Our goal is for our students to truly make an impact on the community," says Dr. Barnett. "We want to empower them to make a difference.  And now we're focusing on how to build the vehicle to make that occur.".

The Jones Leadership Academy opened its doors for the 2014-2015 school year in what had been Samuel M. Jones at Gunckel Park Elementary at 430 Nebraska Ave. That first year, there were students in grades 7th through 9th, with the boys and girls in separate wings.  At the time of its opening, Dr. Romules Durant, CEO/superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, said the reimagining of Jones was an extension of the district’s transformation plan, with TPS expanding on successful programs and eliminating those that are ineffective.

The new high school (which is adding a 10th grade this year and will eventually be a school for 7th through 12th grades) is designed to serve as the logical next step for students who currently attend the district’s two single-gender elementary schools -- Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls and Martin Luther King, Jr., Academy for Boys.

The emphasis on single-sex education is just fine with Taylor Hughes, a dynamic 13-year-old who has her life plan already mapped out.

"I'm not really focused on boys at this stage," says Taylor, who will be a freshman this year and who is already taking classes at the University of Toledo through the College Credit Plus program. 

What she is focused on is achieving her goal of starring on Broadway but she plans to major in theater and pre-law (with a minor in music). That way, she is prepared to be a performer - and she can attend law school so she can read her contracts for herself.

"I see my future so many steps ahead," she says.

The learning environment being fostered at Jones is really helping her hone her goals, says Taylor.

"At Jones, they really push excellence," she says.  "They want us acting like leaders and showing integrity. And they're always pushing me to go beyond what I'm doing."

And that means exposing the students to activities that they might not otherwise consider. A perfect example is the chess program run by Warren and Yolanda Woodberry, who have been married 36 years and who returned to live in Mr. Woodberry's native Toledo after 20 years in Mrs. Woodberry's native Caribbean.

What started four years ago as a pilot after school program has evolved into an elective class during the seventh period this year (for boys) and a dedicated team of both boys and girls that consistently place at or near the top of area chess tournaments.

"There's a lot of research on the value of chess," Mr. Woodberry says. "Students are learning to think creatively, they're learning to take responsibility, they have more interest in math ..." And, Mrs. Woodberry adds, "It increases their self-esteem."

And that, to the Woodberrys, is the most significant impact they can have on their young charges. The two have taken over a classroom at Jones and have transformed it into a warm, inviting space where cool jazz plays in the background, there is artwork from around the world displayed everywhere and where the students might be challenged to research a topic they're interested in and give speeches to their teammates.

"We're trying to give them a bigger picture of life," said Mrs. Woodberry.

The two work at developing a family environment, so that from 3 to 5:30 p.m. each weekday, the chess students have a respite from cell phones and videos and the chaos they might be experiencing at home.

"We really are trying to foster a sense of family here," Dr. Barnett says.  "Our main ingredient is a spirit of love for our students and love for our staff as well."

"I believe a school can change a community," explains Dr. Barnett.  "A school can galvanize a lot of things."

"Leadership is service. It doesn't exist in a vacuum," he adds.  "We have to help each other."

That's why he is proud that the school will house four Head Start units this year (with plans to have the high school students read to the littlest ones), as well as serve as the home of the UT@TPS program, where parents can go to college on the same schedule as their TPS students.

New to Jones Leadership Academy this year will be the High School of Business because a part of the school's mission is to develop an entrepreneurial spirit among its students.  And now they are expected to dress in professional attire each day, with a uniform shirt and ties for the boys and skirts and cross ties for the girls, another way for the students to start seeing themselves as leaders.

This Rights of Passage Program will continue to grow until there are 11th and 12th graders dressing in blazers, Dr. Barnett says.

"The goal is for all of our students to go to college. And I say that unapologetically.  And if they don't go to college, they'll be able to be successfull in the workforce."

Anyone interested in enrolling at Jones Leadership Academy should call the school at 419-671-5400 or check out its section (under High Schools) at www.tps.org.

Posted on August 20, 2015