'Putting students first': The legacy of retiring Supt. Nathaniel Jones

By David McGuire

My career as an educator has been greatly shaped and inspired by the work of my predecessors in Indianapolis—influential Black school leaders who have taught me so much about how to do what is best for children. In that spirit, I am writing a series of posts profiling those leaders. This is Part One.

Longtime Indianapolis superintendent Nathaniel Jones is retiring and we’ll be sad to see him go, but if his record as an educator, leader, and especially mentor and coach is any indication, the city and state will be benefiting from his work for years to come.

A year ago I came to Indianapolis Pike Township to teach because I wanted to work under Superintendent Jones. As he finishes his final year in the post, I can say it was a privilege to observe him at work.

Going forward as the new principal at Tindley Preparatory Academy, I hope to apply some of what I’ve learned from this seasoned and accomplished professional. He departs after affecting the lives of thousands of students for the better.

Superintendent Jones began his impressive career as the first male first grade teacher hired by Indianapolis Public Schools and taught different grades for five years before moving on to principal at three different schools in Washington Township. Next he became Pike Township’s first African American superintendent, and he retires having held this post for 13 years—a remarkable feat since most superintendents seem to last less than half as long.

Jones has won more than 60 local, state, and national awards “for his leadership and innovative approach to educating students, teachers, and the community.”

At Pike, which is about 60 percent black and otherwise extremely diverse, Mr. Jones both raised standards and increased student accountability, partly by assembling a top-notch team and partly by implementing innovative programs such as basic skills classes, teen mentoring, and a hallway monitoring system.

He also dedicated himself to improving education at the school and increasing graduation rates and scholarships. Among their other accomplishments, seniors in the class of 2016 received more than $11 million in awards for college.

As a proud graduate of a historically black college, Central State University, I especially appreciate the “HBCU Pipeline” program and annual college tour that Mr. Jones started at Pike. Central State not only prepared me well academically, it taught me valuable and lasting lessons about the importance of community and how education can lift people to heights they never dreamed possible.

In February I attended a forum held by Pike’s Black History Club where community members, students, and their families received information about the schools and various scholarships available to applicants. They also heard from a panel of Pike alums and recent graduates of HBCUs.

Thanks to events such as these and other encouragement, Pike can boast of having sent around 400 students to HBCUs over the last eight years.

Another of Mr. Jones’s missions has been to mentor teachers and future leaders. He told me personally how important it was to him for his leaders to grow and eventually branch off and serve.

“He wanted to help others develop into leaders the same way he was developed to be a leader,” says Jeremy Coleman, an assistant principal in Pike Township. Coleman also happens to be my cousin, proving that Superintendent Jones has had an effect on my whole family.

“Superintendent Jones makes it a point to partner with the community and parents to provide 360-degree support for students,” he says. “Mr. Jones would tell us in leadership meetings to always put students in every decision you make. If you put the students first in decisions you know what you are doing is right.”

Superintendent Jones also emphasizes professional development and continuous growth for all of Pike Township’s staff. Every year in collaboration with Lawrence Township a weeklong professional development course is offered free of charge to all Pike Township employees.

Mr. Jones’ initiatives have encouraged and empowered everyone from graduates to staff to other leaders to aim high. I’ll be following his model as I take on responsibility for my new students’ futures and successes and I know I won’t be the only one following his lead.

Photo of Supt. Jones courtesy of Indy Star

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David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.