Superintendent of Jackson-Madison County Schools
Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography by Woody Woodard.
Born in Tupelo, MS., Eric T. Jones was raised in Starkville and Kosciusko, MS. and Henderson, TN. After graduating from Chester County High School in 1998, Jones attended Middle Tennessee State University and Freed-Hardeman University. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in history, a Master’s degree in administration and supervision, an Educational Specialist degree and a Doctorate in leadership and policy studies.
Dr. Jones began his teaching and coaching career in 2002 in Millington, TN., moving to Jackson a year later to teach and coach at Madison Academic Magnet High School. He moved into administration as an assistant principal at Liberty Technology Magnet High School before taking over a struggling Jackson Central-Merry High School in 2008 as part of a Fresh Start Program. He left JCM in 2013, raising the graduation rate from 57 percent in 2008 to 91.3 percent. Also for the first time in school history, JMC achieved the Federal standard known as Adequate Yearly Progress.
Dr. Jones went on to produce similar results at J.O. Johnson High School in Huntsville, AL before joining the National Institute for School Leadership in Washington, D.C. As a resident faculty member, Jones traveled the country consulting with school districts with a focus on leadership.
Assuming the role of superintendent of the Jackson-Madison County School System in July 2017, Dr. Jones makes his home in Jackson with his wife, Megan, a special education teacher at Pope School, and their children, Riley and Peyton.
VIP: What are some of the major job challenges you are facing at present?
Dr. Eric Jones: Some of our capital needs for buildings and laying out a long-term plan to upgrade our school buildings are high priorities. Our school climate is in need of a touchup. 1) We really need to improve so the people in our schools and district feel good about where we are headed and 2) really feel good about our values. 3) Literacy plays such an important part in the overall success of our children. These are major areas in which we really need to focus.
VIP: How does your background in education, specifically as principal at the JCM Academy of Medical Technology, prepare you for your new position?
EJ: It gives me a little bit of context of some needs of the district. Having lived here for quite a while, it gives me an insight that other superintendents in the past may not have had. Also being familiar with the community and the unique needs of our school system helps me understand some of the things that have gone on in the past.
VIP: Do we have some unique needs that other school systems in our area do not have?
EJ: I don’t know if we are unique in this regard. We are a mid-size city, but we have a very large private school presence and that plays a part in our schools. I’m not saying this is negative or positive. The investment in public schools really becomes very important because without the public school our city would not be successful. How you balance that is very important.
VIP: How did your work at the National Institute for School Leadership in Washington, D.C. assist you with your present position? Did your travels around the country consulting with school districts with a focus on leadership give you ideas that you might implement in Jackson-Madison County?
EJ: Absolutely it gave me a different perspective. I learned that other districts are facing similar needs. It also gave me a context of things that are going well and things that are not going well. I learned from a lot of great leaders.
VIP: What do you most enjoy about your new job?
EJ: I enjoy giving back to my community. I was born in Tupelo and lived in Koskiusko and Starkville, MS. and moved to Henderson, TN. in Chester County when I was 12. My wife works in the system. Our daughter is in the system, and our son will be in the system. The relationships that I develop and the positive impact with the young people are what I treasure the most. I really take very seriously and I get great joy in helping to make their lives more productive.
VIP: If you could wave a magic wand, what changes would you implement today within the Jackson-Madison County school system?
EJ: I don’t know if it would be a change, but I would want every child reading on grade level. That may not sound like much, but research shows that when children are reading on grade level, especially by the time they graduate, the chances of them being successful in secondary education and in the job market go up exponentially, and it gives them options and opportunities in their lives. We want our children leaving our schools with options and opportunities and the best way to achieve those goals is for the children to be on grade level and to be literate—not just being able to read and write, but to problem solve and to dive into a text. This can take people a long way.
VIP: What are your top five goals in your new position as Superintendent of Schools in Jackson-Madison County?
EJ: 1) Our areas of focus will be school climate and culture. 2) Also we must have a program and curriculum alignment and make sure we are efficiently getting our children through the process. 3) Early foundation: we should make sure that we are really building a strong foundation in K-3. 4) Work force development: We have to make sure that everything we are doing is getting our children ready to graduate, and 5) The last piece that intertwines with all of this is literacy.
VIP: What is your vision for the future? I know you are focused on setting the District up to grow and meet the needs of Jackson-Madison County for decades to come.
EJ: I want to make sure that kids have options and opportunities when they leave. Long term I want the children to grow and be much more progressive and to attract industry, and I want Jackson to be a city where people really look to us as having our stuff together. Our educational system is ground zero!
VIP: Tell me about your family.
EJ: My wife, Megan, is a special education teacher at Pope Elementary School. We have two children—Riley, a daughter, age 6, at Pope School; and Peyton, age 3, in day care at Jackson Christian Day Care.
VIP: What are your hobbies? Do you have a favorite way to spend a rare day off work?
EJ: At present I don’t have a favorite way to spend a day off. I enjoy basketball and I fish once in a blue moon, but I don’t have a consistent hobby. I like to spend a day with my family or go fishing at the nearby lake of my good friend Dexter Williams, the Superintendent of Schools at West Carroll.
VIP: What is your favorite indulgence?
EJ: Warm chocolate chip cookies any time. I can’t stop eating them! And I love Chick-fil-A.
VIP: What is your favorite fall activity?
EJ: I like to watch college football.
VIP: What is your favorite travel destination?
EJ: The West Coast, where we go every summer. My wife is from Los Angeles.
VIP: How do you spend a rare day off work?
EJ: I spend it reading leadership books and listening to audiotapes.