by Tori Hamby

HUNTERSVILLE – To Michael Jones, the new leader of Hopewell High School, the role of principal comes in many forms.

He sees himself as a CEO, school spokesperson and community liaison. He doesn’t have any kids of his own, but is happy to tell anyone who asks about the more than 2,600 Hopewell High students he will lead starting Aug. 27 – the first day of school.

“I’m dedicated to being all things for all people,” Jones said.

Jones will be a familiar face for many returning students. He served as an assistant principal at Hopewell during 2010-11 school year, before moving to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ central office as a zone administrator. His familiarity with the school’s parents and staff has made his quick transition smoother than expected, he said.

The school board appointed Jones to his new post at the end of July after former Hopewell Principal Louise Jones left unexpectedly to work for the Washington, D.C. public school system.

“I’d say one of the biggest challenges has been coming to the seat this late in the summer,” he said.

Jones said he takes a break during evenings to watch the Olympics. Most other times, he is working at his computer to answer emails before bed.

But he’s used to the long days and hectic schedules.

Since arriving to the school system in 2008, Jones has served in six positions. He began as an assistant principal at Vance High during the 2008-09 school year. In one year, 2009-10, he served two stints as interim principal – one at Vance and another at Garinger High.

Jones sees his many short-term appointments not as a drawback, but as a strength.

“I’ve taken my skills sets wherever and whenever CMS has called on me to use them,” he said.

During his decade-long career as a teacher, Jones also taught third-, fourth-, fifth- and eighth-graders in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Illinois and served as an assistant principal in Virginia. He helped open a faith-based private school in Chesapeake, Va., serving as the school’s executive director during its first year.

Jones said he also hopes to engage and invest community members – even those without children in the public school system. One of his first moves as principal was to meet with Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain, Huntersville Commissioner Melinda Bales and CMS school board member Rhonda Lennon – or the “girl power” team as Jones likes to refer to the group. He wants to reach out to town and county officials, he said, to find ways to invest all local leaders in education.

“… Jones comes to Hopewell with such energy and enthusiasm, combined with experience from his time as assistant principal at Hopewell,” said Lennon, who represents northern Mecklenburg County on the school board. “He is a motivated and collaborative leader that will take Hopewell from a good high school to a great one.”

Jones returns to the school at a time of great accomplishments and challenges. US News & World Report named Hopewell the top-ranked high school in North Carolina earlier this year based on student-teacher ratio, End of Course test scores and a college readiness index.

Graduation data released by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, however, shows that while graduation rates for the school had been steadily climbing since 2009, the rate dipped slightly to 77.3 percent for the last school year.

At the end of the 2010-11 year, Hopewell reported a 79.6 percent graduation rate.

Jones’ experience as a zone administrator for the school district’s eastern zone will help him fix the issue, he said. He used to review exit surveys from high school dropouts and found that some of the area’s smartest students – some scoring in the 98th percentile of their classmates – were dropping out of school.

“It just doesn’t add up to me,” Jones said. “There wasn’t a connection there in terms of a relationship between students and faculty.”

He said he wants to teach his staff to develop strong relationships with students. If a high-performing, but unmotivated student knows he or she will let a teacher down by dropping out, he or she has a personal reason to continue their education.

At the end of the next school year he hopes he can report a graduation rate “strongly above 80 percent” of seniors, he said.

“Everyone needs to feel good about driving up to Hopewell,” he said.