Rose Tree Elementary School's new principal has only sat at her new desk for about two weeks but she is bringing plenty of experience and culture to the position.
"I've been really lucky because I've had an interesting journey," Principal Jenny Robinson says.
Robinson was born and raised in South Africa, where she began her teaching career. She taught high school science in an inner city school towards the end of apartheid, before heading to Canada in the late 80s, where she changed direction and studied business.
After having spent about two years in Canada, Robinson took a break from work life to raise her two daughters and began her United States journey. She lived in Texas, Colorado, San Francisco and then decided on Pennsylvania as her children were approaching school age in 1995.
The family had moved at the time due to her then-husband's career but Robinson says she realizes now what an opportunity it was to see the U.S. and with her children not yet being school-age, it was excellent timing.
"I never realized at the time how wonderful that opportunity was," she says. "It was a wonderful way to get an idea of the country, because it's so vast and different. And having experienced so much, I knew absolutely that the East Coast was where we wanted to be. I really do like the history and everything else here."
Once her youngest daughter entered school, Robinson says she knew she wanted to get back into teaching but had to first get her United States teaching certificate. So she studied at West Chester University and spent her first 12 years of teaching in this country in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District.
She says it was a great way to ease back into the profession because she also lived in the district, so she was able to see her children while at work. She taught fifth grade and middle school science in the district but knew she wanted to advance to the administration side of things once her own children finished school. So she left the classroom and took on leadership roles within the district offices. But once her daughters graduated from high school, she knew she would have the time for an administrative role.
Robinson was first an assistant principal and then principal in the Oxford Area School District. She was principal of Nottingham Elementary School for two years before coming to Rose Tree Elementary.
She says she had a wonderful experience at Nottingham but she wasn't able to build on relationships at the 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades school because she had so many new students each year.
"I really wanted to be in a K through five building because part of my frustration in Oxford was that every year almost half of my building was new," Robinson says. "I like to put time into building relationships and getting to know the children and families. I couldn't do that in the way I like to do it."
Robinson says she enjoys the leadership role that being a principal brings.
"I really see myself as the facilitator in the building," she says. "We have highly professional teachers and outstanding students, and to keep everybody challenged and moving forward and learning and growing, takes a lot of facilitation. I really do see that as my role."
Robinson brings an abundance of life experience to the principal role as well and a global prospective, which is uncommon for the average principal.
"I think because of that I'm able to meet the needs of teachers and students and another big component is the parents," she says. "We can't do it alone. I really see the three groups—staff, students and parents—and we all need to work together so that the students can be as successful as they possibly can be."
Robinson, who is working on her doctorate program at Immaculate University, doesn't just keep the learning to the classroom, she has incorporated her own life's journey into her teaching.
"I truly value learning but it's not just good grades," she says. "We're trying to raise a generation of truly responsible citizens."
In 2003, Robinson became a U.S. citizen on Flag Day in a special swearing in ceremony at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia. She, along with 12 other people from different countries to represent America's first 13 colonies, was asked to represent South Africa in the ceremony.
"It was just the most incredible experience," Robinson says.
She was able to share the experience with her students at the time too.
"What made it more special is that I could share that whole process with my students," she says. "They were studying immigration and citizenship. So I could actually take them through the process I was going through, which made it even more enjoyable. It was very special."
Robinson says the transition to Rose Tree has been wonderful and Interim Principal Wayne McAllister was a great help to her. Former Principal Karen Daugherty resigned in August.
"Everybody has been so welcoming, the students, the parents have been incredible and the staff. So I felt very welcomed and I feel very comfortable here," she says.
Even during the interview and hiring process with the district and the board, Robinson says, she felt comfortable.
"Right from the very first interview, I felt very comfortable and it just felt right," she says. "I can't believe it's only been two weeks because it feels so much longer."
Robinson has plenty of ideas and contributions she wants to bring to Rose Tree but she's taking her time before putting a vision in place.
"When you move into a new place, especially a highly successful school like Rose Tree, I think it's important to get to know the culture and be respectful of that culture. And only then can you get to know it well enough to identify a vision," she says.
But whatever her vision is, Robinson says, it will be child-centered.
She believes in "educating the whole child," meaning there's a focus on academics but she wants the students to be life-long learners and good citizens.
She says having taught children from second to 12th grades she knows the importance of a good foundation at the elementary level.
"If you've got that strong foundation you can deal with those behaviors that come on later," Robinson says. "If you don't pay attention to those needs now it makes it so much harder when you're looking at teenagers."
Nationally, there is such a focus on standardize testing and Robinson says the testing is important but educating a whole child is just as important.
"I'm not opposed to standardize testing, I think you need those benchmark check in's," she says. "But I don't know that we need to do that every year."
While it's not an issue in the Rose Tree Media School District, some schools nationally only focus on the standardize testing and lose arts and music programs.
"It's a concern, nationally, because at the end of the day...you may have a child who struggles academically but is incredibly gifted in the arts and they need to know that that's their strength," Robinson says. "...You have to keep that whole prospective, because everybody has strengths and we have to make sure that we are giving children the opportunities to find those strengths."