Executive Director, Faith Leaders for Excellent Schools

Jenese Jones has been in the field of K-12 education for 14 years. She began teaching in the 2002 Teach For America Saint Louis corps and spent 12 years in the classroom. She has extensive knowledge in special education and has served as a curriculum specialist, special education coordinator and virtual instructional coach.

In 2012, Jenese was elected to public office in the District of Columbia, serving as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for Single Member District 5B05. As a founding board member of the D.C. Education Coalition for Change, she consistently strives to build partnerships with civic and faith-based organizations throughout the city to improve relationships and increase access to opportunities for all children and families.

Most recently, Jenese served as a Program Director at UNCF, where she designed the first national teacher pipeline program for historically black colleges and universities in partnership with The New Teacher Project and the Relay Graduate School of Education. She was also a Leadership for Educational Equity Policy Advisor Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education, where she developed the inaugural Male Educators of Color Symposium in 2015 and received commendation by President Obama.

Jenese is a first-generation college graduate and proud alumna of Clark Atlanta University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and urban politics with a minor in vocal music performance. She is active in the performing arts scene and in her church. She immensely enjoys line dancing, comedic impersonations, singing and watching historical documentaries. Her motto: “I’ll find a way or I’ll make one.”

I aspire to be like Harriet Tubman. Here’s why:

In all of American history, I have yet to find a more brilliant, bold and spiritually sound African-American female trailblazer other than this “great Moses” of our time. Born into slavery, she escaped and subsequently made 13+ missions to rescue 70 enslaved families and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.

Maybe it’s the fact that she was born and raised in the Old Line State. Maybe it was her relentless vision and brilliant execution of strategy. Or perhaps it was her unique ability to achieve so much with so little resources. As I grapple with the complex issues facing our educational landscape, I am reminded daily of her fortitude, resilience and grit to allow no roadblocks, detours and potholes to negate my pursuit toward the north star of equity in education for children in the state of Maryland.

Why I love my job:

I view advocacy and policy reform as a necessary component of the broader movement for equity in education. My career has been diverse, from teaching for 12 years to supporting and mentoring classroom teachers to organizing parents to be a voice for their school communities. In all these roles, I have always been a voice for the underdog and the forgotten few. I take this work very seriously because I truly believe that advocacy and policy reform can push the lever for transformative change.

My connection to public schools:

I was educated in the public school system in Charles County, Maryland. I received reduced price lunch for many of my early childhood years, and my mother was adamant about putting my siblings and I in pre-K (Kudos for foresight, mom!). Growing up in a more rural area of the state, school, church and Girl Scouts played a critical role in my development.

I am forever grateful for the teachers, coaches, pastors and community leaders who poured into my life and planted seeds of excellence and high expectations.

What I’m bad at:

I have difficulty saying no to things that I’m passionate about. I believe that to whom much is given, much is required. I realize that I can’t be in ten places at the same time, though I try. I am learning how to manage my plate and “balance the ship” so that I can make it happen!

The image that represents why I work at Faith Leaders for Excellent Schools:

In the world of advocacy and policy, women must strike a delicate balance, keep our composure, lead with integrity and confidence….all while wearing a smile and heels! I approach my work as the executive director of Faith Leaders for Excellent Schools thoughtfully, being certain to balance the perspectives of various stakeholders across lines of difference, while remaining laser focused on improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged children in Baltimore.

Image source: Darwin Bell bit.ly/29aRb2X (cc)