By David Boyce
Each school year, principal Marty Jacobs sees more than 500 new students enter Liberty North High School for the first time. It has been part of his life for over three decades, most of the years in the Liberty Public Schools.
Jacobs’ first 25 years in LPS, he was the principal at Liberty High School. He moved over to LNHS when it opened six years ago.
The first day of a school year brings excitement, a new beginning, new possibilities and new ideas.
As the students walk into Liberty North, Jacobs understands each student is an individual with an ability to do something very well.
“All these kids have their individuality,” Jacobs said. “We want them to keep their individuality going, and maximize their genius side and develop them. We don’t want a cookie cutter approach.”
Jacobs feels strongly about that responsibility. He wants the staff at Liberty North to help every student reach their full potential before moving on to their next phase in life.
“It is a bit of trepidation on my part,” Jacobs said of that first day of school. “Are we going to reach them all? It is also exciting. It is new. You see all the kids excited about all the new things. And then you see them starting to interact with staff and the staff start seeing things in them in the programs they are in. OK, they are getting there. That is a neat transition.”
As Jacobs explains what the first day of school means to him, it is easy to understand why he has been able to do his job with such enthusiasm over the years.
Before coming to Liberty, Jacobs spent three years as principal at Springfield-Platteview in Nebraska.
Jacobs arrived at Liberty High School in 1985, the year the Kansas City Royals won its first World Series. Jacobs never thought he would stay in Liberty for over 30 years.
“Things kind of happened,” he said. “I raised a family here. My son still lives in Liberty. His wife is a teacher in Liberty. They will probably be staying here for a while.”
The growth of Liberty and the challenges that comes with an expanding community kept Jacobs highly engaged in his job.
“We began to grow in the late 80s,” Jacobs said. “That brought challenges in facilities, curriculum and before that, we didn’t have a number of programs we needed to have in a good comprehensive high school. So the challenge and the opportunity of bringing those online was a neat thing and a very attractive thing for me to be a part of.”
To be one of the best school districts not only in the Kansas City area, but the entire state of Missouri, takes administrators and teachers who want to provide the most opportunities for the students to succeed.
Having after-school programs and clubs for students to be involved in is as important as the curriculum they are learning during school.
It all comes back to finding the genius in each individual student. Creating those programs that help students find their genius takes money and the money comes from a community willing to invest in the school district. The community has to believe in the administrators and teachers.
“We passed the biggest bond issue the community has ever seen in 1993 and 90 percent of the money went to rebuilding Liberty High School,” Jacobs said. “It was vitally important for the principal to be actively involved in the community and programs and visible and that sort of thing.
“You may not be responsible for passing bond issues or getting support for certain programs financially, but it is there.”
Back in 1980, Jacobs took part in a principal assessment center program. He said he was one of the first principals to go through it.
“They had 12 characteristics and the two most important ones were the ability to analyze and to judge,” Jacobs said. “We have to be able analyze thoroughly everything that is going on and make good judgments about what we are doing. If you do that then that will help us make good decisions on finding and developing the genius of a kid.”
Every day when Jacobs walks through the hallways, he sees students who apply themselves. Some of these students are so good that he jokes with them that he is going to flunk them just so they can spend another year at Liberty North.
“We can be pretty jaundice in our view that they have their noses in their cell phones all the time, but there are a lot of creative young minds out there that are ripe for doing a lot of good things,” Jacobs said.
“It is gratifying that they have a sense of confidence and direction in what they want to do and where they want to go.”
In just six years, Jacobs has seen plenty of growth at Liberty North. When the doors opened six years ago, there were 452 students in grades 10 through 12.
“I used to do lunch duty by myself,” Jacobs said.
With 1,747 students at Liberty North for the 2015-16 school year, that is no longer possible for Jacobs.
“It is way different, but in a good way,” he said. “The kids still get around the building just fine.”
Part of the reasons for the rapid growth was redistricting and the addition of the ninth grade, which added about 600 more students.
But if none of that occurred, Liberty North would still have 1,100 students this year.
“The thing I keep looking at: are we building a foundation that is going to stand the test of time? I like to think we are,” Jacobs said. “But you won’t know until you look at it 30 years from now with somebody else looking at it.
“There a lot of sharp, capable skilled people who have helped to build that foundation. I feel confident that it is one that will stand the test of time.”
Jacobs get just as much joy on graduation day as he does on the first day of school.
“They are still scared. Like anything, you are going into a new world, you ought to be scared,” Jacobs said. “But then there is hope. The hope they knock everything out and do great. Also, hope that we did something right while they were here with us their last four years of their K-12 education.”