Bever guided by focus on students first

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

A quality education and a well-run school are the result of many different factors, programs and plans, but all of that can only succeed under one premise.

“Kids come first,” said Liberty Hill High School Principal Jonathan Bever. “If we’re not taking care of children, then we need to reevaluate what we’re doing, and I believe that with everything I’ve got. I said that early on as I stepped into this role as the interim principal.”

While an interim tag left Bever in a position to essentially audition for the principal’s job through the summer and first months of the school year, he has been focused on creating a family on campus since the first day of school rather than worrying about the ultimate decision.

The focus paid off when the school board, on the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart, removed that interim tag Nov. 12 and named Bever the principal.

“I have been waiting for this my whole life and I want to make a difference,” he said. “It is all about your ability to care for one another. I am service-oriented and that’s what we should do. The first thing I said to Dr. Hart when he said he was interested in naming me interim principal was this is the moment I’ve been waiting for my whole life,” Bever said. “I know for a fact, from my head to my toes that this is where I belong.”

His excitement shows and as he retraces his professional decisions over the last few years, Bever said things have happened this way for a reason.

“I love this. If I didn’t have to sleep I wouldn’t sleep. I am just very connected to this,” he said. “I’ve looked back and I was on my way to Salado and I was going to open a middle school, and at the last minute the door shut and I didn’t know why, but I do now. I almost went back to Leander and I didn’t.”

With a kids first mentality, working to capitalize on the district philosophy that all kids can learn, Bever has set about trying to create a tight-knit community on campus involving students, teachers, administrators and parents.

“Going into this, I believe we are a family here,” he said. “I believe we should treat it that way and I feel that there should be honesty and integrity and transparency and just being open and being direct.”

The philosophy and attitude has been contagious as Bever sees a different attitude all around.

“I think the culture in this building has changed,” he said. “When you walk in you feel different. I’ve had so many parents share with me that it just feels different to them from the past years, it feels better. The staff is happy. They are happy to be here, they’re happy to work.”

During his tenure in the district, there has been time for Bever to observe the successes and hurdles LHHS has faced in recent years, and one of those has been to create that increased sense of family that he felt would help combined efforts among the staff.

“I was here for three years before I stepped into this position, so I was aware of some things I felt like we could look at changing,” he said. “But I wanted to do it as a campus, I wanted to collaboratively include the leadership team that I have. I wanted to involve those that have been on the campus.”

Aside from getting the school open in August, one of Bever’s first tasks has been to update the campus improvement plan, which has fit well in his effort to bring everyone together.

“We went to work looking at processes and things,” he said. “There are things on this campus that need to be adjusted a little bit, fixed a little bit and cleaned up a little bit. That started with the campus improvement plan. I got into that thing and it is what drives this campus, and there just was not a whole lot of information there.”

With the enhanced plan and a focus on open communication, Bever said they are seeing changes already.

“I feel like we have direction on this campus,” he said. “I feel like that anybody can walk into my door and ask me a question and I am going to talk to them. I have an open door policy, I’ve always had that and I always will.”

As with any change, it has not all been easy, and while Bever prefers to talk about the excitement and positivity on campus, he knows it will not always be that way in every situation. Even in those teaching moments, relationships can be strengthened, though.

“I am very direct when we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do, there are going to be consequences, whether it is a staff member or a student,” he said. “My goal when I first started this position was to really build some trust, because I think the teachers were struggling with trusting others.”

In the push for greater collaboration among teachers, Bever has put more emphasis on the Professional Learning Communities concept.

“On this campus it was kind of introduced last year, but I have really pushed it and I really made it a part of the master schedule,” he said. “I have groups of people that are coming together and literally having conversations about things like, ‘Your average scores in your class are 92 and mine are 84, and why is that? What can I learn from you?’”
What Bever sees coming out of these departmental meetings is something special.

“Those conversations are happening every day in PLCs,” he said. “All the biology teachers, all the algebra teachers are meeting, all the chemistry teachers are meeting. We even have a science department that meets later once a month.”

The goals are clear, but Bever also points out that they do not have an end.

“It is not going to end, we’re just going to keep moving forward,” he said. “We’re not perfect. I’ll be the first to admit I make mistakes, but I can tell you my number one goal is to make sure we are coming together as a family. There’s not one kid in this building that can’t learn, it’s just a matter of how are we going to get there.”

Now that he has his feet firmly planted in the principal role on campus, Bever can look ahead just a little, but even when he tries to see into the future, he doesn’t see himself as anything but part of the Panther family that is so important to him.

“I’d like to finish my career here,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be in this seat, but I love this district. I got here four years ago, and I should have gotten here sooner.”

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