Q&A with Errika Fearbry Jones, Superintendent’s Chief of Staff, Pittsburgh Public Schools

As the New Pittsburgh Courier celebrates Women’s History Month, we decided to spotlight one of the hardest working women in Pittsburgh—Errika Fearbry Jones, Superintendent Anthony Hamlet’s Chief of Staff with Pittsburgh Public Schools. With a student enrollment of roughly 25,000, there’s never a dull moment in the day-to-day activities for Fearbry Jones.

NPC: When were you named Chief of Staff for the Superintendent?

Fearbry Jones: I will be employed with the District for 16 years in May. My service in the Superintendent’s office started with Dr. Linda Lane in 2013 as the Special Assistant to the Superintendent. Later in 2014, I was named as Executive Director, Internal/External Affairs for the Superintendent. On June 20, I was promoted to the position of Chief of Staff.

NPC: What would you say are the most important parts of your position as Chief of Staff?

Fearbry Jones: The Chief of Staff reports directly to the Superintendent and works closely with the Superintendent on a wide variety of administrative and executive duties, special projects, and initiatives involving the District and its priorities. These include serving as an advisor and sounding board; coordinating strategic planning; handling questions, concerns, issues and requests on behalf of the Superintendent; coordinating communications; and serving as a primary liaison between the Superintendent and various internal and external constituencies. The Chief of Staff is a senior administrator and serves as a key member of the Superintendent’s Executive Cabinet: coordinating agendas, facilitating meetings, retreats and ensuring that follow-up actions are completed.

NPC: Can you discuss the importance of a student’s family as a support system when it comes to succeeding in school?

Fearbry Jones: Research shows that the most successful students have strong academic support from family members. Students with involved parents or other caregivers earn higher grades and test scores, have better social skills, and show improved behavior. We encourage parents to become active in a school’s parent group as an important way to increase involvement.
Beyond attending meetings, parents can also be involved in other ways that will support and promote their child’s academic growth. They include: setting aside time weekly to review the Home Access Center (attendance, current grades, projects due, and teacher information); ask your child questions about their day (what teacher interactions were helpful today? And why? What did you learn today?); create a calendar for special events at school (events to attend, field trips, parent/teacher conferences, Parent Advisory Council meetings, Parent School Community Council meetings); and creating a portfolio of your child’s best work (artwork, completed assignments, report cards, and progress reports).

NPC: I believe you supervise the Community Schools effort. When a parent asks, “What makes a community school different from a regular school in the system,” what would your response be?

Fearbry Jones: On July 27, 2017, the Board approved a Community Schools district policy as a commitment to creating partnerships between District schools and community resources to offer programs which focus on academics, enrichment, health and social supports, youth and community development and family engagement, based on each school’s community needs.
Unlike a traditional school, Community Schools provide a “framework and strategy” to address the needs of students, families, and the community. The goal of a Community School is to be utilized as a hub to address these needs and provide resources for the students as well as the greater community. Community Schools include the following components that are not present in a traditional school: a Community Schools Needs Assessment captures the needs of students, families, school staff, and the community. This allows for the identification of the appropriate services and resources for the school community; Community Site Manager, who is focused and responsible for the implementation and management of the coordinated services and resources strategy at the school site; Community Schools Site Team, which is responsible for the development of an action plan and ensuring that the school is addressing the highest needs of the school community. This group consists of school staff, students, parents, and community stakeholders; community partner management and evaluation, including a structured community partner on-boarding procedure, a monthly community partner meeting, which allows for the community partners to share best practices, resources, and receive the support needed to provide quality services, and a set of “standard operating procedures” to ensure schools’ staff, students, families, and community stakeholders collaborate on improving student outcomes.

NPC: Are you a native Pittsburgher?

Fearbry Jones: I am a native Pittsburgher and my entire K-12 education was in Pittsburgh Public Schools. I graduated from Pittsburgh Perry High School. I got my undergraduate degree from Point Park University and am currently working on a Graduate Degree in Education from Point Park. My children also are PPS students (a recent graduate and an eighth grader).

NPC: Being the Superintendent’s Chief of Staff seems to be a very exciting and challenging position. Can you describe to our readers the certain qualities/characteristics you (or someone wanting to be in a prominent professional position) possess or must have to perform this position successfully?

Fearbry Jones: I believe the number one characteristic to have is a Servant Leader Mindset. This mindset keeps you focused on the fact that your position exists to serve others. For me that includes not only the Superintendent and Board members but my peers, students, families and all staff (school and central office). I passionately believe that all students can achieve at high levels. In addition, being from Pittsburgh and having children in our system, I believe I have a deep understanding of and empathy for issues facing urban families.

During my career, I have acquired the following interpersonal skills: remain positive in challenging situations, motivating others to achieve ambitious goals; bring simplicity to complex problems; move groups to consensus and resolve conflicts while balancing multiple perspectives; having a willingness to have difficult conversations; identify the talent and skill sets in individuals to contribution to team effort; foster the respect of peers and stakeholders which helps to maintain positive relationships; establish clear expectations, deliverables and deadlines; setting clear agendas and effectively facilitating meetings; and navigate existing political structures/systems, creating stakeholder buy-in.

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