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‘Another banner for Parkside’

Parkside second graders (from left) Joseph Coates, Jace Hyde and Logan Jensen work on their best Principal Jones impersonations two days after Jones was named Wyoming’s National Distinguished Principal. Parkside second graders (from left) Joseph Coates, Jace Hyde and Logan Jensen work on their best Principal Jones impersonations two days after Jones was named Wyoming’s National Distinguished Principal. Tribune photo by Dante Geoffrey

It’s been a banner year for Parkside Elementary School and its principal, Kenny Jones. A banner year in the most literal sense.

Four months after his school was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, Jones was named Wyoming’s 2013 National Distinguished Principal by the Wyoming Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals.

Jones, who is a current member — and past president — of the association, is familiar with the process of selecting a winner and presenting the award. Until this year, that is.

This year, the 30th the award has been presented, featured a surprise twist. Instead of announcing the winner at a banquet attended by all of the candidates, the award was presented to Jones at a surprise celebration in the Parkside cafeteria.

With students seated on the floor and Parkside’s entire staff lining the walls, a perplexed Jones entered the room to uproarious cheers, instantly stretching a big smile across his face as he put his hand over his heart.

Jones had just come from the Park County School District No. 1 administration building, where he was under the impression he was at a very important meeting.

Along with Superintendent Kevin Mitchell and a handful of other Powell school administrators, Jones watched the governor’s State of the State address, discussed next year’s budget and the future of the district and ate lunch.

While all important tasks, the meeting’s main objective was to get Jones away from his school long enough to set up the cafeteria for the celebration.

“We don’t usually have that (meeting) in January. That’s usually an April or May kind of discussion,” Jones said.

Once everything at Parkside was in order, Jones was called out of the meeting. There was an incident in the school cafeteria and he would have to get there as soon as possible.

“I’m pulling up (to Parkside) — ‘well no ambulance, no cops, that’s a good thing,’” Jones recalled.  “I’m thinking, ‘Well what could it be in the cafeteria? What blew up in the cafeteria?’”

And then he saw the students, and he knew.

“It’s very humbling, that’s for sure,” Jones said. “You’re humbled and honored, and it makes you feel good that (the staff is) willing to do that for you.”

The previous week, from Jan. 2-4, Jones was in Phoenix to visit his parents and attend the Fiesta Bowl. Parkside’s staff took advantage of his absence and, instead of working, Jones joked, prepared for the surprise award’s banquet.

Besides Parkside’s students and staff, Jones’ wife, children, parents and two of his sisters were all in attendance for the celebration.

Dave Olsen, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals, and Rick Skatula of Casper’s Southridge Elementary, Wyoming’s 2012 National Distinguished Principal, both spoke at the event.

Olsen said Jones was a worthy winner whose leadership qualities, community involvement and letters of recommendation set himself apart from the other candidates.

“Not only has he been very active at the state level with the association, but then all the work at the national level with the association,” Olsen said.

In a press release sent out by the Wyoming Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals, Skatula said Jones is “very deserving of this honor.”

“Mr. Jones is an outstanding educator. His school is known for excellence, and the school community knows Kenny takes a personal interest in every student and staff member,” Skatula said.

Jones, along with fellow candidates Brent Leibach of Highland Park Elementary in Sheridan and Wanda Maloney of Pilot Butte Elementary in Rock Springs, will attend a banquet in Casper today (Tuesday) to be recognized again for his dedication to education.

But Jones stressed this is not an individual honor.

“This award couldn’t happen if it weren’t for you,” he told his students and staff Wednesday. “This award isn’t about me. I can only do what I can do because you are who you are.

“This goes for the teachers, you as students, your moms, your dads, everybody,” he continued.

During an interview with the Tribune on Thursday Jones again flashed his modesty. The 15-year principal affirmed that his pride was placed not on himself, but firmly on Parkside.

“It’s definitely not about me,” Jones insisted. “It’s another banner for Parkside.”

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