“I was looking in the Beacon for the schedule, since I like to attend the service every year,” said Jean. “I saw the article about Rosa (Ramos) leaving and that they were going to begin the search for a replacement. I went to the next board meeting and introduced myself and gave them my resume, and I asked if it would be possible for me to spend a day at the school. That way we could see if it would be a good fit from both sides.”
After the meeting, Rosa talked to Jean for over an hour, and they arranged the visit.
“Rosa was so incredibly helpful, and spent the day showing me around and introducing me to everyone,” she said. “It was one of those things that just happens. I wasn’t looking for a new job. I love Heron Creek. I just came across The Island School opening by chance.”
The board advertised and continued to interview candidates from around the country. In the end they offered the job to Jean. She officially assumes the title of Head of School on July 1, but she is already hard at work settling in and learning the ropes.
Her new school will be a big change for Jean. Heron Creek Middle School in North Port, where she has been since 2005, has more than 1,000 students. The Island School has an enrollment of fewer than 50.
“I am so excited to know every individual child and their family,” smiled Jean. “I can’t wait to start meeting and learning about everyone.”
Jean was born in Clarksburg, Md., the oldest of four children. Her father worked for the phone company and her mother stayed home. There is a 15-year age difference between Jean and her youngest sister, with a brother and another sister between the two. After Jean graduated from high school, her mother returned to school and became an RN.
“My mom is a wonderful woman,” said Jean. “She always has a helping hand for anyone in need. She taught me to be kind and caring. Her mission in life is to make people laugh.”
Jean attended the University of Maryland, where she received her B.S. in secondary education, then later went on to get her master’s degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern.
While she was still at the University of Maryland, she was invited to be in a friend’s wedding party. For the festivities, she was partnered with Billy, an airline pilot for Japan Airlines who lived in Anchorage, Alaska. When she returned to school and he went back to Alaska, they stayed in contact, beginning a very long-distance relationship.
“We talked on the phone a lot,” Jean laughed. “Plus, since he is a pilot, he had free passes and flew to Maryland to visit several times. As soon as I graduated, I moved to Alaska to be with him. I taught seventh grade math at the Central Middle School of Science in Anchorage. We lived there together for five years.”
Then one winter, the unthinkable happened.
“There was a stretch of about 20 days when the temperature didn’t get above zero degrees,” said Jean. “My husband, who is from Tampa, said that enough was enough, and we were moving to Florida.”
On the way, they decided to fulfill a dream he had had since childhood.
“We bought a 44’ sailboat in Puerto Rico,” Jean explained. “Then we spent a year living on it. We started at Amelia Island, then sailed to Friendship, Md. and finally came back to St. Pete and moved back onto dry land. We ended up in Tampa.”
Tampa was Jean’s one foray into a field other than education.
“I was working with a temp agency, and they sent me on an assignment with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” she said. “I ended up working as the assistant to the CFO for a little over a year. My husband was thrilled, because the job came with tickets to all of the games!”
Eventually, though, Jean realized that she was not cut out for office work.
“Sitting in an office all day, staring at a computer screen on a desk, it just isn’t for me,” she said. “I went back to teaching. I spent a year teaching high school in Tampa, then, nine years ago, we moved to Englewood.”
Jean spent two years teaching eighth grade math at Laurel Nokomis before she began the transition to a more administrative role at Heron Creek.
“I was coordinator for assessment, curriculum and instruction at Heron Creek,” she said. “I looked at a lot of data and used it to help plan curriculum, I met with groups of teachers to help facilitate their needs and I was also a coteacher, helping out in the classroom.”
All of the hard work prepared her for her next position, assistant principal at Heron Creek.
“The teachers there knew me in an administrative position from the start, so it wasn’t a huge adjustment,” said Jean. “I went from helping a group of teachers to doing a lot of the same things for the whole school.”
During the time that Jean was at Heron Creek, the community was hit hard by the recession.
“When I started there, we had around 2,200 students,” she said. “This year, we were down to 1,050 students. The socioeconomic status of many of the families in the community had fallen dramatically. It wasn’t the multigenerational poverty that you see in so many communities. For a lot of the kids, it was a complete life change. But no matter what, every day that I was at work, someone made me laugh and I learned something from the children. I loved working at Heron Creek.”
When Jean is not at school, she is likely to be outside.
“I love to do sprint triathalons,” she said. “In a sprint triathalon, you usually swim 1/4 of a mile, then bike 10-15 kilometers and finish up with a 5k run. I heard about the Hammerhead next month, but when I checked my calendar I found out that I won’t be in town that day. Definitely next year, though. I can’t wait for the 5k. I have to admit that I’ve gotten out of the habit of running, so the 5k will be a great inspiration for me to get back into it.”
Jean also has a pair of hobbies that will fit in perfectly on Gasparilla Island. She loves to be in a boat and she loves to fish.
“I started fishing in Alaska; we fished for salmon in the summer,” she said. “We even named our dogs Sockeye and Coho, after two species of salmon. Here in Charlotte Harbor, we like to go out on our flats boat and fish for trout.”
Jean was even in her first tarpon tournament earlier this year.
“I fished in the Ladies Day tournament,” she smiled. “I was with the team on the First Run. I didn’t catch anything, but just being out in the boat, watching the tarpon roll, just being on the water was wonderful. I had a great time.”
With a husband who flies 747s for a living, you would think that Jean would be constantly travelling. Not so.
“We’ve done several trips; to the Phillipines, Thailand and Japan in Asia, and Spain and Portugal in Europe,” Jean explained. “But really, the last thing Billy wants to do when he has time off is get back on a plane. He wants to spend time at home relaxing. These days he works for Southern Air and is training new pilots. as well as flying.”
Jean and her husband have two dogs, this pair given the Florida-appropriate names of Gator and Mako. She has spent the last several weeks preparing for her new position, and has had plenty of help along the way.
“Everyone has been wonderful, from Rosa to the all of the members of the school board,” she said. “I have enjoyed every step of this new journey, and I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store.”
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