Editor’s Note: A series of short human interest stories about the newly named National Superintendent of the Year®, Curtis Jones Jr. of Macon, Ga.
When a career military man with an Ed.D. takes over as leader of your school district, how do you address him?
“We call him Colonel Doc,” says Cassandra Washington, executive director of career, technical and agricultural education in the Bibb County, Ga., schools, where Jones has served since 2015 as superintendent.
The hybrid honorific emerged in 2007, after Curtis Jones earned his Ed.D. while assistant superintendent of the Griffin-Spalding County School System in Griffin, Ga.
“A teacher asked him, ‘What do I call you, Colonel or Doctor?’” says Keith Simmons, Jones’s current chief of staff, who also worked with him in Griffin. “He said, ‘You can call me either or both.’ And ‘both’ stuck. Some people call him Colonel, some people call him Doctor, and some people call him Colonel Doc.”
Now That’s Consistency
Jones is widely praised for his consistency and strength of commitment as a school system leader, and those traits show up in his personal life as well.
Jones met his wife, Evelyn, when he was 4 years old. She lived in Griffin, Ga., a block and a half from his home in the parsonage of Trinity C.M.E Church, where his father was minister, and they used to play together. They reconnected in high school, where he became class president and she was student council secretary.
After Jones graduated from West Point they were married at Trinity C.M.E. The couple, now married 41 years and with three grown children, are still active members of the church. Curtis Jones is the church’s budget chair, and Evelyn is choir director.
Jones says he always aspired to be a leader, from his stint in school safety patrol to his election as senior class president in high school. So it’s not surprising that he thought about entering the military.
He was talking to his French teacher one day during his senior year and told her he wanted to fly airplanes. “She said, ‘I have a former student who you should talk to. I’ll have him give you a call.’”
The former student turned out to be Jack Flynt, the area’s congressman. Flynt told Jones that his Air Force nominations were already filled, but there might be a spot for him at West Point.
Jones did some research about the U.S. Military Academy, applied and was accepted. “I realized I could be a leader,” he recalls. “I decided I’d rather help make plans than follow and implement them.”
A Blooper Moment
Jones was sharing his life story at a local Rotary Club meeting when he was asked how he got into West Point. He said Congressman Jack Flynt had invited him to meet, where he learned he could get an appointment to West Point.
Jones hadn’t done much travel outside of Georgia at that point in his life. “I shared that I was confused because the only West Point I knew about was West Point, Ga. — and I did not want to go there!” he says.
The superintendent did not realize at the time that Flynt, then retired, was sitting in the room as a member of the Rotary Club.
Books at His Bedside
Most recent downloads on Jones’s Nook e-book reader: Learning Tableau 10.0 by Joshua N. Milligan, Developing the Leader Within You 2.0 by John C. Maxwell, Measure What Matters by John Doerr and A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership by James Comey.
Declaring Victory in Battle
In a slight military touch, Jones named his strategic plan in Bibb County “Victory in Our Schools,” and the school district has passed out thousands of pins reading “VIP,” for “Victory in Progress.”
Cassandra Washington, executive director of career, technical and agricultural education in the Bibb County, admits she was initially hesitant about wearing her pin. “The very first time I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to put a hole in my shirt. I don’t know if I want to wear this pin every day.’”
But after Jones explained that the pins denoted loyalty to the mission of helping students succeed, and of being part of the solution and not part of the problem, she came on board. “That stayed with me from Day 1,” she says. “I don’t walk out of the house without that pin.”
She says many community members and business partners have also taken to wearing the pins, creating a sense of a shared mission.
(Paul Riede is a freelance education writer in Syracuse, N.Y., and Jay Goldman is editor of AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)