By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
On March 11, the Seattle Public School Board voted 6-1 to approve Dr. Brent Jones as the district’s first black male superintendent in more than 20 years.
Jones’ contract runs until June 30, 2024.
Like most leaders, Jones has a vision for how the education system should work for our community’s children. With results-oriented leadership, Jones envisions a district that offers a “welcoming environment” and a place to study where family involvement is paramount.
Jones says he plans to have the district hire more color teachers so the diversity at Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is representative of everyone. Additionally, he seeks to build a culture of understanding, empathy and compassion throughout the district and an uncompromising focus on student needs, to name a few.
“The vision is layered,” says Jones. “I want to make sure we have a system that produces results from students of color who are furthest from educational equity. That these results are predictive of how well our students will do in the future.”
“Ultimately, we need a culture where students are expected to thrive and that’s why I want our students to be ‘Seattle ready’ and that means they’re competitive in their chosen fields, great citizens who.” Having fun and being proud of serving others and that they have a strong sense of their own identity and that at the end of the day they are comfortable in their own skin and truly self-realized,” Jones continued. “That’s the vision we have, again, predictable consistent outcomes for each and every one of our students.”
Giving families what they need, when they need it, and how they need it is a key challenge that stems from the environment Jones inherited. With issues such as budget constraints and disparities in discipline and academic performance dating back more than twenty years, Jones sees a variety of challenges inside and outside the school, but remains focused on ensuring schools are safe, welcoming, and nurturing environments are.
“I think as far as the challenges go, there are many, many distractions that aren’t related to the needs of the students,” Jones says. “These distractions range from bureaucracy to racism to discrimination in all its forms. I think those distractions are the biggest challenges.”
“I think we have the right strategic plan, I think we have the right focus, mission and vision, but Seattle Public Schools, like many school districts, have a mission to provide everything for all people, and we can at times of ours.” core mission of teaching and learning. I think those are the most challenging pieces,” Jones added.
A Seattle native, Jones is an example of the importance of marginalized students having someone around them who looks like them and with whom they can relate. Jones does not shy away from this reality. His understanding that the needs of the less fortunate, the marginalized, and the district’s underrepresented and underprivileged families must be met if Seattle is to remain one of the leading cities in the country, if not the world.
“Fortunately, in Seattle, we can talk about prioritizing students who have been underserved in the past,” 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 need more system support.”
“They’re already smart, they’re already brilliant, and what we’re trying to say is if we can make the system work for them, then we know our system is working and we’re learning from what we’ve done to ensure those results.” are strong,” he added.
A graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle and the University of Washington, Jones credits his commitment to education to the “long lineage and history” of educators.
“My mother was a teacher and an educator,” says Jones. “Many of the role models in my life were educated or literate, going back to my great-grandfather, who was a teacher. I’ve had many teachers in my life that I’ve really looked up to, and the strong black men in my life have all been educators.”
After completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology, Jones Pathway seemed destined for the healthcare sector as he planned to break into the dental industry. But after serving as a mentor and camp counselor, he was drawn to the lure of education.
“I just kept having this calling to come back and really be in education,” says Jones. “I went to Texas and was dying to go through and participate in their Education Leadership Program, which was number one in the country at the time. And so I focused right on being an educator.”
In Texas, Jones received his master’s and doctorate degrees in education. Upon returning to Seattle, Jones landed his first few jobs in the community college system, starting in 2000 as vice president at Green River Community College.
For 8 more years, Jones would hone his higher education skills at the area’s community colleges.
“In 2005 I worked under Dr. Charles Mitchell at Seattle Colleges as vice chancellor,” Jones recalled. “These experiences were my first station in the educational leadership in higher education.”
Led by former SPS Superintendent, the late Maria Goodlow Johnson, Jones served as Executive Director for SPS before moving to the Kent School District to serve as Assistant Superintendent.
Jones was appointed 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 fast and without enough community input. But in the minds of most Seattle School Board members, Jones not only earned the position, he proved he was the best person for the job.
“I am very much looking forward to continuing our work [Jones and the school board] worked together towards results-based governance for students,” said Brandon Hersey, President of the SPS Board. “I’m sure our community is excited about the consistency he will continue to bring to the district.”