“What did you want to be when you grew up?”
It’s a question we’re often asked as children and a question that lingers within us all. Some of you might have answered with things like astronaut, doctor, president, or even a singer.
For Briana Jones, Principal in Residence at Democracy Prep Endurance Elementary, she always wanted to be a teacher. Like many of us who dream of making an impact in the education space, her story begins with fond memories of her time in school. Briana remembers her fifth grade teacher as someone who truly instilled a love of learning in her and she always thought “how cool it was to have that feeling in class everyday and I wanted to make sure that other kids were able to experience that too.”
Knowing that her passion lied with education, Briana got a head start to ensure she could realize her dream as soon as possible. Having taken a number of Advanced Placement courses in high school, she was able to become a substitute teacher early on in college while completing her undergraduate degree in Childhood Education K-6. By her senior year, she spent a semester as a student teacher for a 1st grade class, which was her first true experience leading a classroom.
After she graduated from college, she returned to New York where she taught at a middle school in Harlem — an experience she says was very eye-opening for her. Briana expressed, “Seeing how kids struggled in middle school reading and math, while still enjoying being at school, I was grounded back to how important an elementary education is in terms of building a foundation to everything else.”
That’s when she made a big switch and decided to teach for KIPP Massachusetts. During her time there, she taught Kindergarten for three years, third grade for a year, had the opportunity to be Grade Level Chair, and then moved on to become the Assistant Principal. This experience is what truly solidified her love for “growing with a school and with the community — I knew that I wanted to do that again as a leader.” And here she is today: a Democracy Prep leader for our newest elementary school in the Bronx!
What attracted her most to Democracy Prep is the emphasis on civics and how scholars are active not only in their communities and democracy, but the world. Another aspect that is important to her is longevity. While undergoing the interview process, she met people who had been with Democracy Prep for many years, and “seeing that longevity in the building was something that I was looking for because kids deserve to have a school community where educators and staff want to stay and be a part of their lives.”
Briana also shouted out her mentor, the one and only Bryan Stroud, Principal of Harlem Prep Elementary! During her first year with Democracy Prep, Bryan mentored and supported her, especially when it came to navigating the complexities of working in a new school, teaching virtually during a pandemic, and building relationships with staff and families. And that’s one of the reasons why she stays at Democracy Prep — our focus on providing excellent coaching and development opportunities for self-growth.
Briana has certainly grown as a leader in many ways and she said it best, stating “This job lends itself to always having growth areas and you have to be humble enough to accept that.” One of her greatest priorities at the moment is balancing communication with accountability, so that while she maintains high expectations and outcomes for scholars, educators and staff feel safe and happy in her building. At the end of the day, she wants to make sure that scholars and educators alike feel seen, heard, and cared for.
In terms of her leadership style, Briana is definitely someone who favors organization and purposeful systems. To her, it’s important to have systems in place that make everyone’s job significantly easier so that teachers can devote their time to their scholars. She explains, “This work is hard, so there’s a priority for me to make the day-to-day procedures a lot easier.” She also holds herself and everyone in her building to the same standards of excellence. In doing so, she ensures that she and her staff are united under one mission, which is to make sure that scholars receive the exceptional education they deserve.
Briana has many goals that she hopes to accomplish, especially as a leader for a founding school. Presently, she thinks about the landscape of academics in the Bronx and aims to develop a high performing school of elementary kids who will go on to perform at high levels in middle school due to having a strong foundation from the onset of their education. It is important to her that Democracy Prep Endurance Elementary is a school that bridges the gap between elementary and middle school kids in the Bronx, and making sure that kids are at the level they need to be in order to be successful in school and beyond.
A question we asked Briana is, “Who or what inspires you to be the best version of yourself everyday?” and she simply responded, “My nephew.” She went on to say, “I look at him and think of the experiences I want him to be able to have when he goes to school. It means more when you start to have little ones in your life because they connect to the little ones that you have at work. My inspiration is driven by my personal relationship with my nephew and how I want to make sure that the world is a better place for him and all kids.”
For anyone who is looking for advice to help you on your journey as an educator, Briana’s got your back! She advises folks to “gain new perspectives and use them to drive your practice.” As someone speaking from experience, she feels that educators often become accustomed to their own habits and approach to certain scenarios, and they forget to ask others for their perspective and miss an opportunity for growth. Therefore, she encourages everyone to leverage the people around them and tap into the strength of a team to help guide your practice.
Briana is definitely living her dream job and we are incredibly honored that she’s chosen Democracy Prep to nurture her transition into leadership. We can’t wait to see all of the amazing things she continues to do each and every day!
This is just one of many leadership stories at Democracy Prep! Want to learn more about our different leadership pathways and how to join our DREAM team? Check out our website and take a look at our current openings. We’re always looking for exceptional leaders who want to change the world!
We’re excited to announce this year’s Leadership webinar! Happening on Thursday, November 18th from 5-6PM ET, join our Assistant Director of Talent & Development, Evan Burns, along with Allie Re, Assistant Principal, and Briana Jones, Principal in Residence!
Don’t wait! RSVP for this webinar here!