Justin Malone has a passion for reading.
Malone’s favorite book of all time is “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson. He said the book is powerful and helped convey the stages of grief.
The Norfolk native, who discovered he wanted to become an educator during his first or second year of college, said of all the books he has read, Paterson’s piece stood out the most.
He has spread his passion for reading at Jackson-Via Elementary School, where he is the principal. He said he encourages the parents of his 350 students to read to their children. Malone said he joined Charlottesville City Schools because he was looking for an area that has a greater representation of diversity.
His previous roles in the division, and elsewhere, include special education teacher at Nathanael Greene Elementary School in Stanardsville and assistant principal of Charlottesville High School.
University of Virginia, Doctorate in education, administration and supervision, 2014
Old Dominion University, Master of Science, early childhood education, 2003
Old Dominion University, Bachelor of Science, interdisciplinary studies, 2002
Q: Jackson-Via was recently renovated. That’s exciting! A: The building is 50 years old. This past summer, we were fortunate to be the recipient of a modernization, which helped bring in new furniture. And concurrently, the whole building got painted which brightened the look of the building. Four of our classrooms and one of our common areas got modernized.
Q: The division is also trying to reconfigure Walker-Buford. [The request for proposals was recently released] Can you comment on the importance to refurbish things? How will it impact the learning environment for children?A: There’s something meaningful about being in a building that looks good. And it helps to convey a sense of continuity and consistency and safety. If the building can help present that, I think it does help to convey a sense of continuity within yourself.
It’s a demanding job. So, for our teachers to have good furniture, good technical resources, that helps us to be very flexible and versatile in the work that we’re doing. These things work together. I appreciate that the division recognizes that. When you look good, you sometimes feel good.
Q: You served as assistant principal of Charlottesville High School for four years, but now you’re leading Jackson-Via. How do you like it here?A: I’ve had experience at the elementary school before, and I love it. I love the high school experience, as well. The high school experience I acquired prepared me to be an administrator, an elementary school specifically. I wanted to be a principal. I love working in Charlottesville city.
So, I wanted to take advantage of that opportunity. But the scope of the high school is just so much bigger than the elementary, obviously in terms of the number of students. That experience built my temperament, and stamina of what would be needed at the elementary school.
Q: Most people leave their hometown after high school. Why did you stay in Norfolk for college?A: I was still figuring some things out right after college. There probably would be been better adventure here somewhere. It took me a while to lock in what I wanted to do. And then when I reconciled with those things, Old Dominion was perfect. It was close and accessible. I met my wife. There were reasons to stay in the area.
Q: How did you realize you wanted to be an educator?A: I don’t know how I realized it. But I definitely felt something intuitive about the importance of the work. There was something that I knew that I felt comfortable building relationships with people and with students specifically.
I knew there was a piece of me that wanted to provide something back. Having these sentiments and knowing and feeling that I can be effective with this, that [sort of grew]. I feel like I could be effective at having some influence and provide services to students.
Q: Did you realize you wanted to be an educator in college or high school?A: It definitely was not in high school. It was probably freshman or sophomore year of college when I was trying to lock in what my skillsets were.
Several things led to my career choice: thinking where I’ve been successful and effective before, which was in connecting with people and helping people and bringing humor in certain scenarios and seeing the value of at least the perception of seeing a positive role model and the value that might have on people.
From there, and through course work and then through dedicated experiences within the educational setting, everything was affirming the choice.
Q: What attracted you to Charlottesville City Schools?A: When I was working in Greene County, which is a bit more of a rural environment, we were living in Albemarle County. My family wanted to be around experiences and people [where] there were just greater variability and personality, greater presentation of diversity. Also, I was looking for an experience that was unique from what I had done, which was working at an elementary school and working at a middle school.
So, the idea of working in a city school and a city high school was just sort of frightening that I was eager to have that opportunity. Thankfully, I got it.
Q: You’ve been in this building since 2017. What do you enjoy about Jackson-Via so far?A: I don’t know if this is specific to Jackson-Via. But I’m proud of the community connections that we have with the community that is growing around our school. I think in the city, our zone is the area where there’s most opportunity for development.
So, there are a lot of homes being remodeled and built. People are really excited about being connected to our school. On a daily basis, that shows. I think a really positive connection with our community, to me outside the interactions and relationships with the students in the work that we do for them, the connections with our community is something I’m most proud about.
Q: What’s on your wish list?A: I want to continue to create opportunities or help identify for students to have really positive and successful experiences. What I want is for that to happen. And we definitely have an experience where our students, I think for different factors, their learning outcomes are different from some other students learning outcomes.
For as much as work as we think we do, there’s always room that we have to improve on. My wish list would be, for all of our kids, every single one of them, to have a really successful and thriving learning experience [that we help sustain.]
Q: Could you talk about the reading initiative going on here, Read with Us? A: That was a unique idea. Several of our staff are really creative, resourceful people. Our coach had seen this idea somewhere else, and we kind of took it. And she helped developed it into this really cool thing. We were recording individuals reading a book.
Something that lasts anywhere from four to six minutes. And we upload it on our Facebook page; students and families could interact with that text. We’d be reading that book to them when they’re about to head off to bed or ending their evening, they’re ending their evening with us reading a story for them.
We’re at a point now where we had a book uploaded every day for a solid year. The initiative is still going on, but not as frequently.
Q: What are your goals in having a program like this. Is this your way to remedy the opportunity or achievement gap?A: Ultimately, I think there might be some connections to that. Sometimes just the idea of promoting reading and the value of reading and being read to and this other component of that coming from people who are really invested in your children and in you, that’s important.
That connection was maybe more thriving or important rather than just closing the achievement gap. And it was an expression in our belief in you and our connections to you and our desire to provide things that share with you what we value, which is reading.
Q: At this age, why is it so important to promote reading?A: I don’t know if there’s anything other than loving on them and keeping them safe than reading. I think the acquisition of hearing words and talking about books, develop all these parts of your brain that helps you think critically and navigate and understanding people or other things that they’re going to read. Reading also helps develop empathy and compassion.
It can help inspire creativity. The more opportunities we have to read with students, or to help them read for themselves more powerfully, I think the more successful they’ll be with learning.
Q: What would you recommend parents to do?A: Just read a book that you love with them. Help them find books that they love. Ask questions when you’re reading. Just really continue to set an example and continue to model the value of reading and the value of that interaction. It’s very powerful.
Q: Has reading being a big part of your upbringing?A: Growing up, reading was easier for me than math. So, I’ve always loved to read and to learn and to acquire knowledge and information through reading.
Q: What’s the last book you read?A: I just finished “Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know” by Malcolm Gladwell.
Q: Let’s shift gears a little bit. There has been a new rollout of Quest. What are your thoughts on the new initiatives?A: This pivots with how gifted is now defined and gifted being integrated into classrooms. It puts teachers and us in a mindset of thinking about all children as being capable, and the potential for them to be successful learners.
This particular change in the gifted program has really helped promote that. So many times, initiatives, or the manner by which things can get shared or disseminated, come down to the people who do it. We have two good gifted teachers. Their belief in what they can, and their belief in what the students can do, the mindset of I want to connect to all students, is important.
I always try to find balance in everything. I feel confident that I’m able to create distance from certain things in a way that I feel like not everybody can. And I’m thankful that’s the case.
Justin Malone, Principal of Jackson-Via Elementary School
Q: To my understanding, there are two gifted specialists in each building. Do you think two specialists is enough?A: I don’t know that yet either if more or less is what’s needed. Our gifted resource teachers help represent at least a mindset that all children could, in essence, be gifted and knowing that there are variability into that.
It does not mean there are not students who are truly exceptional learners, but it helps us to think about our students potentially all being exceptional.
And then the area that we need to continue to grow and develop on is in the classroom, the teachers’ capacity to differentiate. That’s a difficult task and strategy to really do effectively.
Potentially, there could be more gifted resource teachers who are needed, though. Teachers being able to continue to possess a positive growth mindset and continue in their practice to differentiate, will help along with the resource teachers that we have now.
Q: What challenges did you feel like you face with the gifted program?A: What existed historically: Were enough students viewed and looked at as potentially being gifted or the gifts that they possess, were we given them enough opportunity to represent them and to display them? That had been a challenge.
To some extent, it still is. But I think we took a step to sort of, again, put our lens and our perspectives on the students and thinking of their gifts and strengths. Let’s develop their capacity and competency.
Q: I’m positive there are some great things happening in the building. What do you want to convey to parents? What’s one thing your staff is doing, and you feel like the community does not know?A: On one level, I think that if a family thinks their child needs anything, that we want to be able to help provide that to them. The one thing that family knows that we want to continue to convey is that Jackson-Via is their neighborhood school. That means they’re welcome and they’re encouraged to be a part of their neighborhood school. We’ve had great success with that, and I’d like to continue to build on that.
Q: The division’s gifted program has been criticized. What are some of the misconceptions that only educators would be able to shine a light on?A: I don’t know if there are any misconceptions. I do think that the job of teaching is a very difficult job. I don’t know if the New York Times necessarily revealed anything that was new, or people don’t fully appreciate the type of work that goes into being an educator or a teacher.
Maybe what could be there’s always an intention to do the right thing. I hope there’s always an intention to want to help every student be successful. Sometimes, we do that really effectively, and sometimes, we have areas to continue to improve on.
Q: Many principals have told me they find it hard to shut down at the end of the day. Do you experience the same thing?A: I don’t really have a problem destressing. I don’t know why. I think, in part, because I recognize that I am a certain age. I have two kids. I’ve been married for 20 years.
I always try to find balance in everything. I feel confident that I’m able to create distance from certain things in a way that I feel like not everybody can. And I’m thankful that’s the case. I run. I try to work out a few times a week. I love to listen to music, and I read.
Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.