Kevin Stiner | October 23, 2023
Learning to Lead
Jessica Newby ’13 attributes her quick ascension to high school principal to her experiences inside and outside of the classroom at SUNY Brockport.
It wasn’t by accident; it was by design, would properly describe Jessica Newby ’13’s ascension to Principal of Wayne Education Center, Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES. Less than a decade after graduation from SUNY Brockport, Newby’s intentionality paid off as she compacted decades worth of experience into a few years.
“There’s no way I would be where I am today without that experience (of being a resident assistant (RA)),” said Newby. “Your life is so busy, that you have to learn quickly how you’re going to be an RA, do student teaching, and keep up with your classes.”
Newby’s ability to connect the dots on transferrable skills gained in a variety of roles accelerated her rise. She was an RA in the Living Learning Communities (LLC) for the Teachers of Tomorrow, a residence hall for first year students that plan to apply for a teacher certificate program. There Newby invited faculty members to give talks and lead groups through constructive forums.
“The experiences I had were intentional,” shared Newby. “I didn’t join a club, just to join a club. I didn’t do an activity to do an activity. I looked at them as how is this going to help me grow, and how is this going to help enhance my future career. At the time I knew I wanted to be more than a teacher, I knew I wanted to be a leader, so what skills could I take from that and transfer it to being a teacher, an assistant principal, and then a principal.”
One of Newby’s greatest memories at Brockport was during her graduation when the commencement speaker asked the graduating class to raise their hands if they had a job lined up. She vividly recalls hands shooting up all around her because like she, many of her peers in the education majors secured jobs prior to the ceremony.
At every stop in her career Newby was commonly awarded more responsibility in brief timelines. Less than a year into her first role out of college at Victor Central School District, she was approached to spearhead growth within the alternative education program. After five years in Victor, she became an assistant principal in Hornell.
However, a year later Newby missed Rochester and landed a pathways coordinator role at Finger Lakes Technical and Career Center at Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES. Shortly thereafter, an opportunity arose for an assistant principal position at Wayne Education Center, and she took it, only to be promoted to principal in September of 2022.
As the Principal of Wayne Education Center, Newby has helped build uncommon connections for her students. She forged partnerships with BOCES career and technical education schools to increase her student’s participation in vocational programs.
“We’re really working on what are the skills that we can build with 9th and 10th graders, so they’re ready to go their junior year,” said Newby about partnering with the vocational schools. “I have goosebumps because of how incredible it is to say that 50% of our juniors and seniors go to a vocational program and leave not only with a high school diploma but with a certificate for their trade. Every year when they get to go to two graduation ceremonies, when people their whole lives have said ‘good luck graduating,’ it’s such a proud moment to see.”
Along the way, Newby continued to validate her experiences with additional degrees and certificates. While working at Victor she completed a master’s degree in STEM education at St. John Fisher, and gained a certificate of advanced study (CAS) in educational administration from Oswego. Presently, Newby is pursuing a Doctor of Education degree from University at Buffalo and plans to fulfill her requirements by presenting her dissertation in May 2024.
“I’ve been doing a lot of research through my doctorate on teacher motivation and teacher retention, and one of the reoccurring themes is that teachers go into the field expecting it to be like this, ‘I’m going to make bulletin boards, and all my students are going to love me, and I’m going to get teacher appreciation gifts,’” said Newby. “That’s just not the reality. I think Brockport really prepared us for that. Our professors were realistic but supportive.”
Newby credits several faculty members including Sandra Cimbricz, Chris Wilkens and Donald Halquist, for helping her discover her why. Understanding her inspiration to do what she does on a daily basis routinely motivates her efforts.
Advice for Aspiring Educators
Just as Newby was presented realistic expectations of school environments by Brockport faculty, so too did she offer advice to students for both positive and negative times.
- Take advantage of your resources.
- Talk to your professors, classmates, and/or counselors.
- Make the most of your time through intentional experiences.
- Once in the field, continue to lean on your old professors for advice.