Focused on Flagler Schools

A conversation with Jeff Reaves, Principal of the Year

March 11, 2021 Flagler Schools Season 1 Episode 2
Focused on Flagler Schools
A conversation with Jeff Reaves, Principal of the Year
Show Notes Transcript

We sit down with Jeff Reaves, the principal of Matanzas High School and our Principal of the Year. He shares what it's like to lead a top-rated high school in the state of Florida, as well as the unconventional road he took to school administration.

Matanzas High School

Jason Wheeler:

He went from climbing the corporate ladder to being a preacher, teacher, and now principal. This is Focused on Flagler Schools and I'm Jason Wheeler Community Information Specialist with Flagler Schools. We want to share the achievements and challenges facing our students, teachers and staff right here in Flagler County, Florida. So let's dive right in. We're joined right now with Jeff Reeves. He is our Principal of the Year for Flagler Schools and happens to be the principal of Matanzas High School. Welcome to our podcast here.

Jeff Reaves:

Oh, it's great to be here. Thank you, Mr. Wheeler for the opportunity.

Jason Wheeler:

First question for you. Your background. Did you grow up wanting to be a principal or wanting to be an educator? How did you get to this point in your life?

Jeff Reaves:

Actually, it's a great question. This is my third life goal. So I started out working at Winn Dixie as a teenager and transitioned to working for Florida Power and Light company, a large utility in the country. And we spent about 12 years there, and worked my way up through management and but had a life goal of pastoring. And so I made a transition and went into a pastoring position. And we did that for about seven, eight years. And my third life goal was education. And so in 2005, I transitioned into education and have loved every second of it.

Jason Wheeler:

You had a successful career. down south in Volusia County. You came up here a few years back to Matanzas. Why this position? Why Matanzas, why this point in your career.

Jeff Reaves:

I'll tell you, that when I first entered the principal internship, I started in high school as an ESE teacher, or exceptional student education, and I just found a connection to that, to that group of students. And so even when I entered my internship, I was interning at a high school, and looking for the opportunity to go back into high school. So I did Elementary, for about two and a half, three years. And then I did Middle School for half a year. And then when Mr. Tager gave me the call about if I wanted to join up here in Flagler County, I jumped at it. And it's been a great experience for me.

Jason Wheeler:

The last year notwithstanding, what is the been a challenge of being a high school principal versus an elementary or a middle, or K-8, like you had done before?

Jeff Reaves:

The complexity. There's multiple layers of things happening. And as we say, everything's happening all the time. So there's events going on, I won't say 24, seven, but certainly seven days a week. And just trusting your organization, your people that all those things are running together smoothly. But there's a lot of moving parts to high school, that's probably the most challenging part to it. But with the right team and right people in place, it's it can be a successful experience, both for staff, students and community.

Jason Wheeler:

I say this because I'm a parent of a of a high schooler, and I've got a graduate as well. And I guess, around this age period, they almost become human again. And you can have it but with that you can have adult conversations you can have back and forth. And they're still trying to find themselves. So it's a fine line there that's got to be enjoyable, as well as challenging.

Jeff Reaves:

So, going through the gamut from pre-k having three and four year olds to 18 year olds, each each group is unique, but the highest school students you can have an adult conversation with about, you know, "David, let's get things together. Let's finish passing math. Let's talk about your career. Let's talk about your options. Let's talk about college. Talk about careers, what's your dreams where you want to see happen for yourself." And the joy I think of being a high school principal, at least for me is that you can help make some of those things happen connect them to the right people, the right colleges, universities, the right career fields, and see them shine and step into their own.

Jason Wheeler:

Because in high school you're really that's the last shot of having them before they're on whether it's good college career, whatever but really, they're they're leaving the house after after they graduate and you'll walk across the stage off the stage and right into a job or something, right?

Jeff Reaves:

That's correct. I treat 'em all like they're my own. I love them to death. I...I said I'm firm but fair. And we have very hard conversations. Very serious conversations, but we laugh as well. And I think that's the human side of it. Like you're saying that that connection on a personal level but professional to help them see a side of themselves in the world and and to spread their wings and fly.

Jason Wheeler:

What's the challenge of leading a high school campus going into the 21/22 school year and beyond? It's, I mean, lessons learned from this past year, year and a half. I mean, as we're speaking right now, it's it's the week before spring break. A year ago, it was our last normal week before everything changed. So dating this this podcast a little bit, but you know, moving forward, what what are the challenges you see?

Jeff Reaves:

I think there's been certainly a paradigm shift in in education as a whole. And I think that we, as educators, as leaders, we have to make sure that we're aware with what's happening around us. I've talked to my staff and said, you know, certainly this has been a tragic difficult time. We tongue in cheek, say they were all first first year people was a first year principal again, even though it's my eighth year, it's the first year because it's so new. You're learning as we'd have an 18 year unlearning and relearning stuff. But I said, there's things that have happened that we've learned from that are positive we can move forward with. And I think this is the modality of instruction. I think certainly our teachers have learned amazing skills as far as technology and witness as far as working in that hybrid world, that there's some things that those that could certainly continue on to help students learn and grow. You see that even in colleges and universities, what has this last year done.

Jason Wheeler:

When it as far as the supports needed for students?

Jeff Reaves:

They they've been strained. I mean, you look at the community as a whole. And there's students studies show and research shows going on in the country. Now, there's a higher propensity right now, for students with suicide, students with self destructive thoughts, students that are harming themselves, because they're in isolation. And that is certainly an unforeseen consequence, what took place? And yet, how do you function help those kids through that process? So we've been very sensitive that and the district has as well of making sure that people are in place to support our students, and the families as they work through and cope the situation we're going through now.

Jason Wheeler:

What about our teachers and your staff? Because I know they they're a caring, very caring group of people, you teach for a particular reason you have this passion? And to not have your kids in your classroom? Or or, and I know, their strain doing doing both, you know, as far as face to face as well as remote live, what is this done? And how do we support them going forward?

Jeff Reaves:

I, we laugh a lot. We give them time, I think, in this profession, in particular, we had last spring, which we all got kind of thrown into. And in the summer, still not knowing. And and so for us at our school, I asked him what's the what's the one thing we can give teachers and staff, and it was a gift of time. So we gave them extra time for planning extra time for professional development extra time to whatever they needed to do, right without a lot of constraints, because I trust the professionals in the room. You know, you I tell them, you're the expert in your content area. I'm here to help manage and cast vision and to do these pieces. But it's incumbent on you to the others and and we have a very good working relationship. And we're in classrooms a lot. We're covering classrooms, we're doing all sorts of things to help out. And I think the main thing for our staff is they know that we're all in this together, that we're a very tight knit family. And none of us could do without the other.

Jason Wheeler:

And we all have good days we all have bad days and and it's just a matter of supporting I guess.

Jeff Reaves:

Exactly and, and you know reloading for the next day. You know, some of the most rewarding days or some of the most exhausting days. And if we're not careful, our wells run dry. And so I really stress to the staff the importance of what are you doing for yourself, one of the things I really have encouraged throughout the year is gratitude walks. And I do them often to for myself personally but for my staff as well. And demonstrate those those pieces and it goes with my word for the day. My one word this year is to restore. And I'm when I came that word it meant for me not just academically, but emotionally, mentally, physically restore people, and economically restoring people. And I think that when we're consistent with those areas, it lends support to your staff and they see that you're there and and frankly being vulnerable and real with them. They know that I've lost a brother this year, they know I lost my mother in law this year. I lost a friend to COVID and by being vulnerable like that to the staff, they see the human side that that we're working together to get through it all.

Jason Wheeler:

You were named Principle of the Year this year for Flagler Schools. What does that mean for you? Professionally, personally, you don't get to get a tiara or anything like that. You get a nice little plaque and a gift. But what does it mean for you to be named the Principal of the Year for the district?

Jeff Reaves:

I'll tell you. So in 2017, I was named innovative principle here for the state with regard Elementary, and it didn't really dawn on me. And it was great, but I didn't appreciate and this opportunity, I value even more, because it's a it's a high honor to be recognized by your peers, by your, by your staff, by your community and, and the district for your efforts to help students. And I appreciate this one so much more, because I recognize the significance of it. And I'm grateful, I'm humbled and grateful, I have a great staff around me, that makes it possible. I mean, no one does it in a bubble, especially when you're in a high school with, you know, 1700 students, 150, staff members. It's a lot to keep moving and going. And it takes all of us so I'm just humbled and grateful.

Jason Wheeler:

Also, on your campus, you happen to have the Teacher of the Year. You have a lot of great teachers, obviously. But talk a little about Khady Harmon and her story and of having someone like her on your campus, as well on staff,

Jeff Reaves:

What an amazing story came to us as an immigrant to the United States, first generation to college, now working on our masters, someone that has experienced life. And in our country, good and bad, have it all the goes to that process. And to claim citizenship in the country to unify, it's just a magical story. And you watch it with students, and it's magic to see her work and connect. And it's but it's effortless for and that's I think the beauty of it, you see her, see her doing her her thing in her element. She had students who are in their second third year of college coming back and asking for helping chemistry and different aspects of things and just life. And that speaks to her as a person as well of her character and her integrity to nurture. And it's a blessing to have right metathesis high school, she is just an amazing educator.

Jason Wheeler:

What are your expectations for the next school year for the 21-22 school year? Obviously, we came in this year not knowing what was going to happen. It's we've survived largely unscathed, but what are your expectations for next year?

Jeff Reaves:

I know we're moving forward. And as things continue to progress, my hope is that we're back face to face completely in schools. There's something to be said about seeing people face to face. Simple things like a smile, right with our masks, which are we do. It's hard to catch expressions, it's hard to catch those nuances. There's something to be said when a teacher sits down with the students is besides is Jeff let's work through this problem together. that's largely missing this year. And our teachers want it. Our parents want to our students want it but in the right time, right, it has been in the right time. But with so many inoculate now and the vaccine going the way it is, our hope is is that we will be there and to restore things for our classes as students I you know, we're working through our senior prom banquet right now in our senior activities for our students. And my stepdaughter was a was a senior last year. And she is oh my gosh, I lost my my last prominence thing I said, I said, the junior class coming up last that plus. And so we've worked very hard to ensure that our students are getting as much as a high school experience as possible. Like we all had, their parents had to give them these benchmarks that they can check off in life that they've experienced and the rites of passages. And I think it's important that we maintain that as much as possible and looking forward to re establishing that next year.

Jason Wheeler:

What makes you sad?

Jeff Reaves:

Hmmm. I'll tell yo , so, when, when someone doesn' have hope, there is something to be said for when you lose hope. It's hard to have perspe tive. Use optimism. It's ha d and sometimes you have stu ents, there's people you kno that students who haven't exper enced that and to try and it s the hardest, as far as cha acter trait for a stud nt to understand or if they've never experienced it. And, you k ow, I again, treating ou like children, you know, not ing's guaranteed in life, but yo want choices. The worst thing h ppens is you're told you do t is is you only have no option. T is is it. I said it may be two c oices you don't like but you still have a choice. And edu ation helps give you that edu ation gives you that chanc that opportunity and, and hen a student loses hope hat's devastating to me because look I internalize that of what could I have done differently t an to help try and mitigate the ssues going on in their lives a d our kids face some very da nting situations that we never aced. And so that, to me is pr bably the thing that makes m

Jason Wheeler:

What makes you happy?

Jeff Reaves:

Shaking a hand or giving a hug or come across the stage for graduation, that's the pinnacle. And I've done dropout prevention. And you know, the one thing I tell young people, I said, I'm not gonna talk about money. I'm gonna talk to you about nine years ago, what's that? So that's your average life expectancy, that'll be longer, because you have a high school diploma, not about the money you make or the other things but you will actually live longer because of all these other factors that come into play. And when you help someone realize that and make their dreams come true. And this one stage of their life before they crossovers and earlier they take the flight. That to me is the most rewarding thing that can ever happen.

Jason Wheeler:

Jeff Reav s, principal of Matanzas H gh School, our reigning Princi al of the Year. Thank you so mu

Jeff Reaves:

Thank you so much, sir. Appreciate it.

Jason Wheeler:

And we want to thank you for listening to Focused on Flagler Schools, a roduction of the Flagler County chool District. New episodes re released every other Thursda . If you like what you ear, subscribe, and check out Fl gler Schools at www.flaglersch ols.com or on Facebook, Twi ter and Instagram where we' e @FlaglerSchools. Thanks f r listening and remember let's keep Focused on Flagler chools.