Smiles are easy to come by for Jessica Poole.
The new principal at Bethel Hill Charter School either has one on her face, or she’s talking to a child who’s smiling because they are excited about the start of school.
Jessica Poole officially began her duties July 1. She replaces Stephen Hester, who retired at the end of June.
On Monday, Poole stood in the school’s cafeteria at an impromptu meet and greet designed to let the new school leader meet her charges and their parents.
Poole smiled as she greeted students and parents and, even as she carried on short conversations with staff members, a smile would cross her face.
The students were happy too. “They all would tell me they were excited to start the new school year. It’s great to be in a place where everyone is excited about school,” Poole said.
The new post at Bethel Hill Charter is a distinct change of pace for the 13-year educator. She spent the first 10 years of her career as an elementary school teacher at C.G. Credle Elementary in neighboring Granville County. She took a couple years out of the classroom to expand her own education after she was accepted into the North Carolina Principal’s Fellow program through N.C. State University.
She returned to Credle and Granville County last year, serving as an assistant principal at the school.
Poole said she’s long been interested in getting into school administration, because it allows her to work with others to solve problems and address larger needs.
“I spent a lot of time in Granville County in a lot of teacher leader roles. I enjoyed mentoring others and helping people grow their capacity as well as mine,” Poole said.
The new post will also put Poole in something of a superintendency position. Instead of reporting to another administrator, Poole will answer to the nine-member board of directors. She said, in a community like Bethel Hill, that’s helpful.
“It’s definitely exciting and it’s going to be a learning experience. We have great educators at this school, so I’m confident we are going to be just fine. I’m excited to be in that learning experience with them,” Poole said.
Bethel Hill School, which celebrates its 100th anniversary during the 2020-21 school year, is a center of attention in the community. Poole says she recognizes the school’s importance not only as a community center, but as a focal point for an issue that has long been important to people in the Bethel Hill community: education.
Monday’s meet and greet was even more evidence of the value the Bethel Hill community places on education.
“We realized it was the middle of summer. People are on vacation. There are ball games, there’s the pool. There are so many things going on this time of year, but every time I looked up, there were more people coming in to say hello,” Poole said.
Like every school administrator, Poole knows she faces certain challenges. “We’re preparing these children for a world that doesn’t exist yet. With the rate of progress today, we don’t know what the world is going to look like. We have to look in terms of technology that doesn’t exist yet. We talk about being 21st century learners. We have to teach children how to face these challenges and how to become critical thinkers and problem-solvers,” Poole said.
Chances are, she’ll do that with a smile on her face.