Facing a sea of Charles H. Flowers High School staff Monday, outgoing Principal Helena Nobles-Jones told them that she’s not abandoning them, only retiring.
“Don’t worry about who’s going to be sitting in that seat,” Nobles-Jones said of the future principal. “All you got to do is worry about your job.”
Nobles-Jones, 67, of Upper Marlboro is retiring after 12 years as the Springdale school’s first principal when it opened its doors in 2000.
A retirement celebration is planned June 22 at The Camelot in Upper Marlboro and the school auditorium will be named for her in a ceremony at a date to be determined, said Linda Aarons, Flowers’ instructional coordinator.
Faith Jackson, 17, of Bowie who graduated with the class of 2012, said that Nobles-Jones was a mother to all of the students and connected with them regardless of their backgrounds. Jackson, who was the student board representative for the Prince George’s County Board of Education this school year, said she relied on Nobles-Jones’ advice to be humble, handle issues without confrontation and push her perspectives without burning bridges.
“She doesn’t judge anyone,” Jackson said. “She doesn’t focus on some students more than others. She’s extremely caring. She’ll bring anyone into her office if you need her.”
Nobles-Jones retired from the District of Columbia Public Schools as the system’s assistant superintendent in 1998 and then took on the role as principal of Baltimore city’s Northern High School from 1998 to 2000. Marcus Newsome, the former regional executive director for Prince George’s County Public Schools, asked Nobles-Jones if she would become principal of Flowers.
Nobles-Jones said she worked all the time trying to think of new opportunities for her students and said she didn’t want her staff to rest on their achievements.
“I know I’m demanding and I also know I work 24-7,” Nobles-Jones said. “I didn’t stop when I got home.”
Nobles-Jones said she wanted to stay connected with student academic success before, during and after school. When teachers came to her wanting to start extracurricular groups, Nobles-Jones said she did her research on their viability.
She said being aware about the goals of each group keeps her connected with her staff and allows her to give informed suggestions on how to make them exceptional. As a result the school now has groups such as Project Lead The Way, an extracurricular technology group that awards grant money to students to do science projects that potentially could be patented.
Aarons, whose sons, Omari and Adisa, graduated from Flowers in 2003 and 2004, said one of the things students liked about Nobles-Jones is that if they brought her a plan for a new group she allowed them to roll with it. Aarons said that freedom led to groups such as the Student Humanitarian Organization founded in April 2010 which raised money for January 2010 Haiti earthquake victims.
“That empowerment she gave those students and teachers is what made Flowers the great school that it has become under her leadership,” Aarons said.
Her closeness with students also made it difficult to deal with tragedy. During her 12 years, there were two student suicides in addition to the January 2008 homicide of senior Cherrese Richardson-Frederick, a bystander caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting a few blocks away from the school.
Nobles-Jones said she would let her emotions flow in private but not in front of her students because she had to be the strong one for them.
“You had to bounce back and you had to bounce back quick,” Nobles-Jones said.
Flowers PTSA president Betty Tingle of Mitchellville praised Nobles-Jones’ dedication and said she made a point to come out to as many PTSA meetings as possible and send representatives to the ones she could not attend.
“Honestly at this point she cannot be replaced,” Tingle said. “I just hope that the person coming in meets a small amount of the dedication she had for that school and the dedication in that school.”