The new principal of Thomas Dale High School has a vision that includes making school fun. Chris Jones hosted an assembly Wednesday evening Jan.... Winds of change at TDHS
Chris Jones

The new principal of Thomas Dale High School has a vision that includes making school fun.

Chris Jones hosted an assembly Wednesday evening Jan. 9 for parents, students and community members where he talked about his vision. The assembly marked Jones’ 100 days on the job.

“Monday’s the new Friday,” he said, referring to the “making school fun” part. This involved focusing on enrichment, including club/activity meetings and “Genius Hour.”

Another part of his vision includes a “rigorous communication program.” He said the school now has over 3,000 followers on its new Facebook page, “Thomas Dale.” The school also has 1,500 followers on Instagram and 900 on Twitter.

“I want to create a Dale that meets the needs of every single child,” Jones said. “The school cannot do it alone. We need engagement from the community.”

Some parents and students who attended last week’s meeting approved of the changes they’ve seen so far.

“It’s different than last year,” sophomore Adriana West said. “Last year was real depressing. This year, people smile more. It’s a better vibe.”

“He’s made the atmosphere a lot better,” junior Rachel Robbins said. “He’ll pull you out in the hallway (and talk to you), and participates in classes.” She said Jones took time to introduce each of the school’s administrators to students. “He’s just a great principal. I love it here,” she said.

Ally Wagner, a mother of a sophomore, said she has seen a “huge difference” in the school. Jones is “very engaged,” she said. “The communication has increased tremendously. I feel much more connected because of [Facebook]. I know when things are happening.”

Leigh Robbins, Rachel’s mother, agreed. “This is the first year I’ve felt connected to what’s going on.”

Being connected is important because the school is big. At 2,400 students, Thomas Dale is the 15th largest high school in the state, Jones said. And he likes it. “I don’t want to rezone. It’s amazing,” he said. “We are probably the most diverse school in Chesterfield.”

“I was rudderless when I graduated from high school,” Jones said. “I applied to [Old Dominion University] and quit after three semesters.” He related how he planned on being an electrical engineer because an uncle was in that field. The movie “Con Air” gave him new direction, however. “I became an Airborne Ranger (in the Army) because of Nicolas Cage,” he said.

Jones would like students to touch the “real world.” The school is planning to have a “Job Shadow Day” on March 26 where students will spend the day at an area business or nonprofit organization.
Doug Robbins, Rachel’s dad and owner of Robbins Landscaping, approves. “It’s an exciting thing for kids to touch on the real world a little bit,” he said.

Jones believes the traditional high school model is broken, and he has a five-year plan to change it. “We have taken small steps this year and will continue to take small steps each year,” he said.

He is planning to eventually have seniors do a “capstone project.” This could involve someone who wants to be a pastor or minister spending two months in Bogota, Colombia, for example, and getting high school credit for it.

Other examples of changes include adding outdoor classrooms. “This year, we added an outdoor classroom in one of our courtyards and received a grant to begin construction of another one between this year and next year,” Jones said. The school plans to use one of those spaces for a vegetable garden and a greenhouse with an environmental lab.

Other changes will take place over time, like adding couches and bar-high tables in the 300/400 hallway, which Jones would like to use for instruction. “Hallway transformation will be something we will continue to address in small chunks,” he said.

A simple change that was made involved removing all staff reserved parking spots in the front of the main campus and reserving them for families.

School counselors are talking to each student one-on-one about the upcoming changes, he said, including rising eighth-graders.