Profile: Curtis L. Jones Jr.
Military Bearing for a National Honoree
BY PAUL RIEDE/School Administrator, May 2019
|Curtis Jones Jr.
WHEN BUSINESS LEADER Roy Bibb sat down for lunch with the new superintendent of the Bibb County School District in Macon, Ga., he wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, Curtis L. Jones Jr. had spent 20 years as an Army officer, topping out at lieutenant colonel, before embarking on a career in education.
But the thing that struck Bibb was not the superintendent’s military bearing but his eagerness to listen intently to everything he said.
“I thought he was the most interesting guy at the table, but it appeared to him that I was,” says Bibb, CEO of the MidSouth Community Federal Credit Union and an active school partner. “I think that’s how he is at every opportunity with folks.”
Jones, 63, now concluding his fourth year as superintendent of the 24,000-student urban district, is the 2019 National Superintendent of the Year. Supporters say his success stems from his steady focus and his inclusive, collaborative style.
“He stands tall, but he’s very gentle and he’s approachable,” says Cassandra Washington, the district’s executive director of career, technical and agricultural education.
Jones reached out to people across Bibb County when he arrived in Macon in 2015. He was the district’s fifth superintendent in seven years.
He helped revive the district’s Business and Education Partnership, which helped raise $2.4 million for a K-12 character education effort. He helped establish a credit union branch inside the district that employs students as tellers. He hired two former principals to supervise and mentor principals. He standardized the district’s approach to reading.
Bibb says Jones’s structural improvements and his ubiquitous presence across the district are reshaping the culture.
“He leads outside of his office,” Bibb says. “If you’re going to influence your culture you have to be a part of it, and I think he does a terrific job of that.”
Since Jones arrived, the high school graduation rate has increased annually, achievement levels of students with disabilities are up double digits, all classrooms have received new technology, and retention of new teachers rose 15 percent this year.
Jones grew up in the parsonage of the Trinity A.M.E. church in Griffin, Ga., where his father was minister. “The parsonage was attached to the church, so you could walk out of our living room and you’d be in the sanctuary,” he says.
His father also taught high school math and social studies, and his mother was an elementary school teacher. Jones sought leadership positions in school, becoming the first African American elected senior class president, then going on to West Point.
His Army career included time in the infantry in Germany and as a comptroller in the Pentagon. In 1997, he was considering another hitch when he learned that the JROTC director in the Griffin-Spalding County School System was retiring, and a friend urged him to apply.
He did, and his wife, Evelyn, was hired as an elementary school teacher. JROTC was high-profile in Griffin, and he quickly rose to high school principal, assistant superintendent and, in 2009, his first superintendency.
While Jones does not fit the stereotype of the hard-core military man, he says his most cherished values, which include integrity, loyalty and honor, align closely with Army values.
“I think it’s about personal character, personal values,” he says, “and if we focus on that then I think the rest of the things will take care of themselves.”
PAUL RIEDE is a freelance education writer in Syracuse, N.Y.
BIO STATS: CURTIS JONES JR.
superintendent, Bibb County Schools, Macon, Ga.
superintendent, Griffin-Spalding County Schools, Griffin, Ga.
Greatest influences on career:
U.S. Military Academy at West Point
Best professional day:
As a high school principal, a student showed up asking to talk. This was not a student I knew well, but the fact he turned to me touched my heart. I knew I was getting through to our students, and he trusted me.
Books at bedside: Learning Tableau 10
by Joshua N. Milligan; Developing the Leader Within You 2.0
by John C. Maxwell; Measure What Matters
by John Doerr
When explaining to the Rotary Club how I got into West Point, I said the congressman at the time, Jack Flynt, told me I could not get an appointment to the Air Force Academy, my desired choice, but could get one to West Point. I was confused. The only West Point I knew was West Point, Ga. — and I did not want to go there! On top of that, Congressman Flynt was in the room. I did not know that.
Why I’m an AASA member:
I am proud to be a part of something bigger than me. AASA does a great job advocating and supporting public education.