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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Despite Challenges, Dr. Brent Jones Optimistic About Future Of Seattle Schools

Dr. Brent Jones

By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium

On March 11, the Seattle Public School Board, by a voted 6-1, approved Dr. Brent Jones to be the districts first Black male superintendent in more than 20 years.

Jones’ contract will last through June 30, 2024.

Like most leaders Jones has a vision for how he would like to see the education system work for our community’s children. With governance that focuses on outcomes, Jones envisions a district that provides a “welcoming environment” and a place of study where family engagement is paramount.

Jones says that he plans to have the district hire more teachers of color so that the diversity in Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is representative of everybody. In addition, he wants to build a culture of understanding, empathy and compassion throughout the district and unapologetically focus on the needs of the students, just to name a few.

“There are several layers to the vision,” says Jones. “I want to make sure that we have a system that yields outcomes of students of color who are the furthest from educational justice. That those outcomes are predictable about how well our students will be doing in the future.”

“Lastly, in that we need a culture where students are expected to thrive and so, intentionally, I want our students to be “Seattle ready”, and what that means is that they are competitive in their chosen fields, great citizens that enjoy and take pride in serving others and that they have a strong sense of their own self-identity and that at the end of the day, comfortable in their own skin and they are really self-actualized,” continued Jones. “That is the vision that we have, again predictable consistent outcomes for each and every one of our students.”

Getting families what they need, when they need it and how they need it is an important challenge posed by the environment Jones has inherited. With issues like budget constraints, and disparities in discipline and academic achievement that date back twenty-plus years, Jones sees a myriad of challenges both inside and outside the school, but remains focused on making sure that schools are safe, welcome and nurturing environments.

“I think as far as challenges there are many, many, distractions that are not related to what the students’ needs are,” says Jones. “Those distractions range from bureaucracy, to racism, discrimination in all its forms, I think those distractions are the biggest challenges.”

“I think we have the right strategic plan in place, I think we have the right focus, mission and vision, but Seattle Public Schools like many school districts are tasked with being all things to all people and we can get distracted sometimes from our core mission of teaching and learning. I think those are the most challenging pieces,” added Jones.

A native of Seattle, Jones exemplifies the notion of how important it is that marginalize students have someone in their presence that looks like them, and someone that they can relate to. Jones does not shy away from this reality. His understanding that the needs of the less fortunate, the marginalized, and the underrepresented and underprivileged families of the district must be met if Seattle’s wants to remain one of the leading cities in the country, if not the world.

“Fortunately, in Seattle, we can talk about the prioritization of students who have historically been underserved,” says Jones. “We use a model called “targeted universalism”. We have universal standards for each and every one of our students, but some of our students, particularly and historically young African American males, are further from that standard and they need more system support.”

“They are already smart, they are already brilliant and what we are trying to say is, if we can make the system work on their behalf then we know that our system is working, and we learn from what we did to make sure those outcomes are strong,” he added.

A graduate of Seattle’s Franklin High School and University of Washington, Jones credits his commitment to education to coming from “a long line and history” of educators.

“My mother was a teacher and educator,” says Jones. “A lot of the role models in my life were in education or educated, going all the way back to my Great Grandfather who was a teacher. I had a lot of teachers in my life that I really looked up to, as well as the strong Black men in my life were all educators.”

After completing a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology, Jones pathway seemed destined in healthcare as he planned to go into the dental industry. But after being involved as a mentor and a camp counselor the lure of education summoned him. 

“I just kept having this calling to come back and really be in education,” says Jones. “I went down to Texas, and I was intent on going through and participating in their Education Leadership Program, which was number one in country at the time. And so, I had this very laser focus on being an educator.”

In Texas, Jones went on to receive his Masters and Doctorate in education. Upon returning to Seattle, Jones jumped right in landing his first couple of jobs in the community college system, where he started as a vice president at Green River Community College in 2000.

For 8 more years Jones would sharpen his skills at the higher education level in the region’s community colleges.

“In 2005, I worked under Dr. Charles Mitchell at the Seattle Colleges as a vice chancellor,” Jones recalls. “Those experiences were my first stint in educational leadership in higher education.”

Under the leadership of former SPS superintendent the late Maria Goodlow Johnson, Jones served as an executive director for SPS before moving on to the Kent School District to serve as assistant superintendent.

Jones was appointed as interim superintendent by the board last year after former SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau resigned. There was some criticism that the board’s search process was too quick and without enough community input. But in the minds of most of the members of the Seattle School Board, Jones had not only earned the position, but proved that he was the best person for the job.

“I am very excited to continue the work that we [Jones and the school board] have done together toward student outcome focused governance,” says SPS Board President Brandon Hersey. “I am sure our community is very excited for the consistency that he will continue to bring to the district.”

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