Jennifer Brown: Principal, Bellefonte Elementary School
Some people spend a majority of their lives searching for their calling. For Jennifer Brown, principal at Bellefonte Elementary School, she knew education was her’s since she was a kid.
“I don’t even know what I would do if I wasn’t here,” Brown said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. This is what I was meant to do.”
Her interest in education and teaching came when she was in grade school. Brown said she often gravitated to students in her classes who struggled, and made it a mission to help them.
“I had this love of the underdog and that’s why I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I wanted to make all kids feel good and show them they’re better than they may think, and now I want each kid to experience success and that same goodness. That’s really the driving force.”
In her third year as principal at the downtown-Bellefonte school, Brown has been with Bellefonte Area School District for 21 years, including 14 years in administration. After graduating from Lock Haven University with a degree in special education, she landed a job at Bellefonte Area High School, where she also graduated from a few years before.
There, she was primarily an emotional and learning support teacher, before becoming the department head. When she obtained her master’s degree from Penn State, Brown moved her way up the principalship rankings – first as the vice principal at Bellefonte Area middle and high schools, and then principal at the high school. About three years ago, she transferred to Bellefonte Elementary on West Linn Street.
“I’m lucky that I’ve gotten to experience all the levels,” she said. “You find that, yes, the curriculum is different, but whether a kid is 7 or 17, their needs are the same. They need love and care and structure.”
Calling her role “the cheerleader for the building,” Brown said her position as principal includes acting as the instructional leader of the school, and also providing support to students, teachers and other staff members with resources they need to succeed.
“It’s about encouraging everyone to work together as a team, from home and school, and bringing those pieces together,” Brown said. “The single most important thing is making relationships – the intangible things that can’t be taught in the classroom. The rapport you have with colleagues and students is crucial. If we don’t have that, then we don’t have (anything).”
She attributes some of her education style and success to mentors in her life, such as former high school teacher Steve McCulley who she described as “kind and understanding, yet structured with high expectations.”
“It was beautiful to watch,” she said. “His heart and the relationship piece he brought was so genuine with that connection and care.”
Now, she walks into school experiencing something rewarding just about every day, including watching students achieve their highest level of success.
*By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD