Holbrook prepares Cornelius Elementary students for future

CORNELIUS – Jessica Holbrook describes kindergarteners at Cornelius Elementary as the class of 2026.

“I want to make sure the kids that I’m teaching now are going to be competitive, career-ready and college-ready in 2026,” Holbrook said. “That’s my goal – just to make productive citizens who are going to be able to compete in our global economy and global market.”

Holbrook became principal of Cornelius Elementary on Sept. 30. She filled the vacancy left by James Garvin, who was reassigned to Reid Park Academy in Charlotte in August.

Holbrook moved to Charlotte from Virginia in 1997 and started her teaching career with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at Newell Elementary. She remained there until 2010 and received her master’s degree from UNC Charlotte in May 2010.

She then became the dean of students at Montclaire Elementary and served as its assistant principal last year.

Preparing students for educational and career success means being aware of trends as well as being innovative, Holbrook said, adding that critical thinking is the most important skill students can learn.

To foster critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication skills, Holbrook said she’s excited to continue the innovation lab, which Garvin started. In the lab, students are presented with a problem and encouraged to solve it in nontraditional ways, using tools such as computers, iPads, pipe cleaners, Play-Doh, Legos – anything that might help them find a solution.

Current Cornelius Elementary students will be in the workforce until 2060, and their jobs haven’t been invented yet, Holbrook said.

“I don’t want to pigeon-hole our kids into always thinking traditionally,” she said.

Collaboration with middle and high school principals also helps with keeping a future-based vision.

Earlier this month, Holbrook met with other area principals to discuss the school district’s most recent graduation rates. Looking at the data, school leaders worked together to discuss improvements at each education level.

Hearing the successes and struggles of the high schools, allowed Holbrook and other lower school principals to think of ideas for their schools.

“I really like that because we have a K-5 school, but we have to think beyond,” she said.

Laying a strong educational foundation in elementary school is crucial to a student’s success in middle school and high school, Holbrook emphasized.

One of her largest challenges is finding ways to continue to push academically talented students while supporting those who are struggling.

“I want to accommodate all the learners, and that’s a huge undertaking,” Holbrook said, adding that it can be done with the school’s great staff and with communication and collaboration with parents and the community.