New year starts with new leader

Principal Jessica Bassett joins Chesty Lions after career in Kansas City

By Arien Roman Rojas, Co-Editor in Chief of The Budget

New and old students are finally in the building after a year of remote learning, and with them arrived a new principal.

Jessica Bassett, a Kansas City, Kan., native and University of Kansas alumna, worked in the Kansas City, Mo., school district for 21 years before being chosen as Lawrence High’s new principal late last spring. 

“When this opened up, it was really like a dream. I couldn’t believe Lawrence High was open, who wouldn’t want to be here?” Basset said. “It’s just an amazing school, great history, great tradition, everything. And I was so glad that I had an opportunity to come.”

Bassett recalls feeling burnt out. She credits her need for change to the grief and trauma of having many of her own students pass away from gun violence. She said she wanted a job opportunity where she could focus on the instructional side of learning.

Bassett was an appealing candidate for principal because of her years of experience teaching music and reading, being both a vice principal and principal, and her charismatic attitude.

“My first impression was in her interview,” assistant principal and activities director Jennifer Schmitt said. “She’s a very experienced and knowledgeable teacher who carries her knowledge of students and schools into her job.” 

Other colleagues agree, saying Bassett will contribute a wealth of experiences.

“Her passion [is] for excellence and her passion [is] for empowering students and building a school that people can be successful with, can have fun, can connect,” associate principal Mark Preut said.

Bassett has an array of things planned for the upcoming school year including a principal’s council, working with Student Council, getting students comfortable with being at school in-person again and most importantly, preparing students for their post-high school endeavors. She even plans to sing with the choir and play with the band since she was a music performance major at KU. She’s also working closely with Schmitt and is deeply involved in the planning of all regular school activities. 

“She’s part of each and every one of them,” Schmitt said, “from supervising dances, to planning Homecoming, to making arrangements at sporting events. She’s closely aligned in most of the decisions we make, whether that be in activities or any area.”

In implementing the Principal’s Council, Bassett has created an environment where students can join her during lunch monthly to discuss any concerns they might want the principal to take care of. Currently the council is called, Chat & Chew. 

“You’ll get to share some of the things that are pressing, and it doesn’t have to be anyone who has already been identified as a leader,” Bassett said. “It’s just if you’re interested, you’ll just come in and sign up.” 

As a principal during COVID-19, Bassett’s objective for this first year back is to return to the normalcy of being in school in person. After such an odd year she wants to get students, teachers, and staff acclimated to interacting with one another again. 

“I want us to get accustomed to being in school,” Bassett said. “To being comfortable again, getting back into that whole group of going back to classes, developing relationships with teachers and learning how to be civilized with one another and treat each other with respect.”

But Bassett’s most important goal for the school year is helping our students realize the best version of themselves. She wants to motivate and inspire students as well as leave them prepared for the world that comes after high school. 

“I would want every student to know that I’m very committed to making sure that every student gets to a place where whatever their desire or dream is, we as a staff do our part in making sure that they can get there,” Basset said. 

Bassett made this goal clear to her team. They are all aware of the ultimate need to elevate everyone, especially students who have been marginalized. 

Because of Bassett, the whole administration is aware of the desire to, in the words of Preut, “lift everybody, and not just be a school that is excellent for the top ten percent but we need to be excellent for everybody.”