Principal Just Bids Farewell to TJ Community

February 20, 2013 by  

After eight years as the Thomas Jefferson High School Principal, Sandra Just has announced that she will be stepping down so she can take a new position with the District as a Performance Management Adviser with the Department of Human Resources.

Principal Sandra Just works with students during her last year at Thomas Jefferson High School. Photo by Rachel Uyemura

Principal Sandra Just announces to the student body today on the Spartan Edition, her decision to take a district-level position next fall. Photo by Rachel Uyemura

“There was an opportunity to work within the District, at a more global level,” said Principal Sandra Just. The DPS Central Administration came to Just with the position and she had to weigh her options before making what she calls the toughest decision of her career. “I weighed whether or not to leave, and this was my best opportunity to move on. The school is currently stable and safe – and in a good position to make a transition into a new principal,” said Just. She says she made this move in order to further her career as a  district administrator. “This was hard because TJ is family. It would certainly be safer to stay here, but when opportunities come you have to take them,” said Just. This has certainly fit to her goals for the school for the past eight years, as students have continued to thrive because of their experiences from TJ.

While a feeling of nostalgia came over Just, she looked back at her era at TJ and contemplated her greatest experiences and achievements while leading the school in a new direction. “The most profound moment every year is graduation. When there is a group of kids that you have invested in for four years and you watch them grow, it’s a great thing. You see these individuals that will change moments in history mature in front of your very eyes and it’s a great thing,” said an emotional Just. While looking at her greatest achievement she said she definitely feels that growing the Honors, Advanced Placement, and Concurrent Enrollment Courses has been the greatest task of her administration. “There was a commitment to growth in my time here and that was a great thing for our school. When I started there were a little less than 150 kids taking AP tests. Now, we see every Computer Magnet class have Concurrent Enrollment opportunities and there are over 400 kids in AP classes. The school has grown exponentially in both categories,” Just continued as she felt the upsurging of emotions come to her at once.
The school will now look for a new principal with Denver Public Schools’ Instructional Superintendent Greta Martinez, to these types of new hires, and a board that will consist of TJ community leaders. “Of course there will be a local search and a national search for the new leader. The job will be posted in national publications for anyone that is interested at that broad level. DPS will certainly put it on their website for anyone at the local level to apply for the position,” said Just.

Assistant Principal Scott Lessard said the new Principal will have the mighty task of improving the students’ academic performance on standardized tests. “Just has done such a great job of getting the school where it needs to be because she connects so well with every student. The new principal will have to make the students grow faster academically,” said Lessard, who says he has been greatly appreciative of the time he has spent as a colleague of Just’s. “She has taught me things about students that I would have never ventured to perceive as part of the learning process. Just has juggled student achievement and engagement so well,” said Lessard. Yet, these aspects of growth with Just have not come as a surprise to Lessard. “Look at her open-door policy. The fact that she believes everyone has a place. She has shown that it is of great importance that the administration stays connected with the kids,” said Lessard. This is greatly evidenced by the fact that she has the name of every student in the school on the back of her door. Just is able to quickly connect with every student in the building through tactics much like these. “The greatest thing about Just,” said Lessard, “is that she does not look at every kid as a number. Many principals easily make that mistake in today’s educational world. She is special because of that.”

While looking back at her time at TJ, Just has no regrets but does wish that there were some things that would have gone differently. “I wish the school would have been Blue in the School Performance categories, because the talent was there. I also wish we could have advertised or marketed a little better to our neighborhood families. These certainly were not losses, but there could have been more growth,” said Just.

Just fully anticipates keeping some connections in the TJ Community. “My son may still continue to go here and I will still have long standing relationships with many of my former co-workers. I will certainly still be seen at TJ functions, but I have to let the new Principal grow roots as well. They have to be able to connect with the students before I am seen again,” said Just.
As the final months of the school year wind down, Just foreshadows the events of her final graduation as the Thomas Jefferson Principal. “For the last eight years I have never cried at graduation. I have come close, but Lessard always snaps me out of it. This year, there will be nothing to prevent me from showing all of my emotion over the past eight years on full display as I confirm my final class of Seniors.”

Just has been a great leader to this TJ community and the selection committee will be hard pressed to find a leader with the presence and skill that Just has provided for the last eight years.

Oprima aqui para leer esta carta en espanol (Click here to read Principal Just’s letter to the TJ Community in Spanish)

Click here to read Principal Just’s letter to the TJ Community in English