Dr. Timothy Jones is principal of B.E.S.T. Academy, a 6-12 single-gender young men academy, part of Atlanta Public Schools in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated with honors from Florida State University in 1990 and upon graduation worked in the Department of Juvenile Justice in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He would often see the same kids returning to the youth detention center, inevitably motivating him to want to make a difference. He involved himself in drop-out prevention within the juvenile justice system and started taking master-level courses in leadership.
“I started taking the courses because I thought that leaders needed to rethink how they acclimated themselves to kids, pushing me into education,” says Dr. Jones.
Upon leaving juvenile justice, he decided to fully commit to the education sector, inspired by a young man who was a principal and his best friend’s godfather. To make a true difference in K-12 education, he challenged Dr. Jones to be part of the solution and offered him a position as a substitute teacher by day and a custodian at night. He enjoyed his experience, stating he learned a great deal about education. He completed his master’s degree and started teaching drop-out prevention, his first class consisting of 42 combined fourth and fifth-grade students. Subsequently, he decided to work towards earning his doctoral degree in Educational Supervision and Leadership.
Reflecting on his many reasons as to why he became an educator, Dr. Jones notes his mother as inspiration. She was also an educator and inspired him to help others. As the coach of the cheerleading team and involved in the booster club, she made sure to always be an engaged teacher in her school community. He remembers students often coming over to their house, completing projects, and witnessing her impact on kids that many would categorize as “at-risk,” or as Dr. Jones calls them, “at-promise.”
“They loved and respected her,” he says. “I wanted to inspire that kind of passion and influence others to make a positive change in their life because I invested in them.”
Starting as a custodian and substitute teacher, Dr. Jones moved up the ladder to lead as an elementary assistant principal, elementary principal, middle school principal, and high school principal. He has held positions as director of curriculum and instruction and director of school improvement and additionally has taught college courses, adult education, and both student and adult English language learners. He sees the advantage of his collective experiences as an opportunity to use the best of each piece of his career, creating a unique experience for his students.
Dr. Jones describes his role as principal of B.E.S.T. Academy as exciting and prolific. Since his arrival, the 6-12 school has transformed from one of the worst in performance to the top 20% for minority males. Not only has he developed as a person, but the school has advanced as well. He’s confident that his rich experiences at B.E.S.T. have not only made an impact on him but has helped shape him into who he is proud to be today. As he grows, he tributes it to the school allowing him to be influenced by it.
“Through that influence, I’m able to give and do so much more than I thought was possible,” he states. “The students aspire me to give more, do more, and be more. Every day there’s a new epiphany, a new reason, and I see something even bigger in the future at B.E.S.T.”
B.E.S.T. Academy’s tagline reads, “We enter determined and exit prepared.” The goal is for every student to be prepared for life beyond B.E.S.T., as they transform boys into men. One way the school helps students prepare for college and career is through interventions. Dr. Jones says the school’s interventions fall into three categories: behavioral, social-emotional (SEL), and academical. Behavioral interventions involve asking small groups of students, “What is it you need to make this school experience not just beneficial, but inspirational?” Around SEL, students are provided with a mentor and taught character development skills and good versus bad decisions.
Academically, B.E.S.T. Academy takes on Saturday school opportunities, out-of-school tutoring, SAT/ACT prep, afterschool programs, and partnerships with different organizations, but he says it is still not enough. To further assist, University Instructors (UI) partners with B.E.S.T. Academy to provide math and reading interventions in the classroom. Tutors provide students side by side instructional support, helping to keep students on track during the regular school day.
“With partners like UI, we’re able to take full advantage of the expertise of those people around us to make up for the shortfalls that we have,” states Dr. Jones. “It’s been amazing working with UI and partnering with people who understand, have the expertise, and can seamlessly help us to articulate kids to the next level.”
The UI team also provides guidance in B.E.S.T. Academy’s process and development of their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) plan and advises to make sure it is aligned with requirements, implementing STEM professional development. As B.E.S.T. Academy is working to become a fully STEM certified school, Dr. Jones believes both STEM and project-based learning are vital in K-12 education because it is the wave of the future. For example, when his students make and launch rockets, they receive the opportunity to go through the design process and discuss what the rocket is supposed to do, all while incorporating math and connecting the lesson to real-life situations. He describes this learning as out of the box thinking that creates opportunity beyond oneself because the more a student engages, the more he can see connections and create a catalyst for learning. The students think more critically about what they’re doing, and the skill sets connect with what the workforce will need either currently or in the future.
A goal of his is to help students become more aware of their life beyond the walls of the classroom because that is what makes them substantial as young adults. It is required for every student to achieve 75 hours of community service in high school to graduate from B.E.S.T. Academy, and the team is currently working on a project to set up students with another 75 hours of service in middle school. Resulting in a total of 150 hours, he sees community service as an opportunity to instill in students the importance of engaging in the community and providing a shift in perspective and mindset.
Dr. Jones says, “Anybody that inspires hope in you is going to motivate you to the extent that you can motivate yourself,” so mentorships and relationships are tremendously important to school staff and students. Embodying this significance, students participate in “gold-to-gold mentoring.” The seniors and eighth-graders wear gold shirts because they are the gold standard for high school and middle school. Seniors mentor the eighth graders, and the eighth graders mentor the sixth graders. As the eighth graders are mentored by older students, they in return mentor the younger students, creating a brotherhood. The students know when they receive their gold shirt, they have an obligation.
Reflecting on his partnership with UI, Dr. Jones gives much credit to Regional Educational Consultant, Irene Bailey, stating, “Irene is phenomenal and has been the collective glue that keeps us connected and together. Her vision, insight, wisdom, and ability to continually change the program to suit individual needs has been probably the greatest piece of resource that we have in terms of academic intervention. She thinks outside the box with how to innovatively change our academy’s programming and has supported us in our transition to becoming a STEM certified school. Her team has taken us to a different level of thinking and implementation and will be one of the major factors in us becoming STEM certified. Her ability to offer us additional resources is something you won’t get from just anyone. The partnership has grown many legs and as we continue to work together, it’s going to get even better. She is educated about the school, our journey, and what we are becoming, and she has become a part of it.”
The University Instructors team would like to thank Dr. Jones for this long-lasting partnership. We look forward to the years ahead!