Richard B. Jones, principal at North Farmington High School in suburban Detroit, recently completed his 36th year in public education. Since 2004, Rick has been to Mali, West Africa three times as a member of a medical team. These experiences helped shape his desire to build a school culture of moving students from “awareness to activism” regarding issues “beyond our school’s footprint.”
During his tenure, North Farmington (in a district that services 96 different languages where English is the second language in the home) has implemented a number of innovative programs. Recent years have featured school-wide interdisciplinary studies based around a theme. As Rick tells it, this didn’t begin as a noble idea, but from not wanting to get fired when the school’s theatre department decided to perform the musical “Hair.” To pull this off, Rick decided they needed to study the Sixties decade with all its in-your-face confrontational attitudes and activist values. The study proved so powerful that annual interdisciplinary studies became the norm.
The year dedicated to “Humanity in Crisis: Genocide” triggered on-going, intense levels of student activism from Armenia to Darfur. Student lobbying efforts led to the Michigan legislature passing a divestiture bill regarding Sudan. Another activity included hosting Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of “Hotel Rwanda.” The day of his visit, the school received a death threat as someone tried to silence his telling of the story. During the last three years, Tim Salem (assistant principal, Danbury High School, Danbury, Connecticut) and Rick have forged a powerful friendship, discovering that each was doing similar work with students regarding the promise of “never again.” This year, their schools partnered to help raise $100,000 to build “Promise School” in Sudan through Save the Children Foundation.
Rick has received teacher-of-the-year honors four times, been awarded the “Great Seal of Michigan,” and the Chair Award from the Farmington Multi-cultural/Multi-racial Council. He is Michigan’s 2008-09 High School Principal of the Year. His wife, Kathy, is Director of Technology for a consortium of 57 school districts. They are the parents of Keely (teacher) and Lauren (veterinarian), who are both graduates of Vassar College.