By Rebecca Schmitz
On the day she began her job as Western Albemarle High School’s newest assistant principal in mid-July, Jennifer Sublette didn’t need a tour of the school. “I grew up in the building,” she says with a chuckle. Sublette’s mother, Kathy Sublette, was a beloved English teacher at Western for 31 years, and Jennifer not only graduated from Western in 1988, but taught history there from 2002 to 2010.
“Some kids would have me as a teacher one year, and my mother the next,” she says. “Sometimes they would come to me to decipher her handwriting!”
Sublette said her mother—who was the last original faculty member still working at the school when she retired in 2010—was an inspiration to her, and one of the reasons she decided to go into teaching. After graduating from U.Va. and working as a retail buyer for a department store in the D.C. area, Sublette began searching for a more satisfying and fulfilling career. “My mother showed me how hard and exhausting teaching could be, but also how incredibly rewarding,” she said.
She earned her teaching degree at American University and began teaching world history at the Eastern Middle School Humanities Magnet Program in Montgomery County, Maryland, eventually moving on to teach world and European history at Churchill High School and then serve as an instructional specialist in Montgomery’s Department of Instruction. But after eight years, the desire to escape the traffic and the fast pace of life led her back home. “It was so much harder to find a work-life balance there,” she said of her time in the D.C. area. Although she enjoyed her work there, she also found it harder to develop lasting connections with the students and their families. “The great thing about teaching in Albemarle County is that the schools have incredibly high academic standards, but you’re still able to develop much more personal relationships,” she said, noting that she often runs into former students, families, and colleagues at places around town like Crozet Great Valu.
She believes her experience in the classroom prepared her for her next job, as a lead instructional coach in Albemarle County’s Office of Instruction while she completed her degree in administration at U.Va. “It was a hard decision,” she said of making the transition to administration. “The real work happens in the classroom, and that can be so gratifying. But strong teachers need administrators to help build strong schools.” She held the position for five years before beginning as assistant principal.
“I feel deeply connected to the history and tradition of the school,” she said. “We want to continue that tradition of excellence. Our faculty is committed to the foundations of a strong education. Students who graduate from Western are well-read, good writers, and good communicators.” She also believes that with ever-evolving technology and more and more resources available to them, it’s important for students to learn to work collaboratively and creatively, as they use a larger range of tools. With constantly evolving technology and academic resources, “…how do you help students feel equipped to be part of this environment? How do you take technology and have students use it in a way that is meaningful?”
“We need to figure out what tools work best for each student. We don’t all reach into a toolbox and pull out a hammer,” she said, noting that students don’t all learn the same way. “Western has a wonderful level of success for a lot of students, but we need to focus on success for all students. Success is never one size fits all. How do we personalize it? How do we create a larger range of opportunities?” She believes high school should help students identify how they learn best and what their passions are. “High school should be an exciting time of exploration, not just an exhausting time,” she said. “Growth is a part of how you stay energized and avoid stagnation.”
Sublette has deep roots in the community. She has lived in Crozet since she was five years old, and attended Brownsville Elementary and Henley. Her commitment to education has strong roots in her upbringing. Her father, Bill Sublette, was an editor for the Daily Progress, spent much of his career at U.Va. and is now at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “With an English teacher for a mother and a writer for a father, my conversations were edited midstream,” she said with a laugh. Sublette has two daughters: Amelia, a fourth grader at Crozet Elementary, and Isobel, an eighth grader at Henley.
It’s clear that Sublette is excited to be back at Western. “It feels great,” she said of her first few weeks back in the building she knows so well. “It’s exciting and rewarding to be back here, in a place with so much tradition. Right now it’s a warm, feel-good moment, but I know things will get a lot more exhausting when school starts!”