For her outstanding contributions as an elementary educator, Susan is recognized on the Donors’ Wall of Fame by Southwest Elementary School of Lakeland, Florida.
“Of those to whom much is given, much shall be required.” (Luke 12:48b)
Susan B. Jones, celebrating her retirement May 15, 2005, has spent her entire lifetime immersed in the education arena, but most importantly, has given the last 26 years to Polk County Schools. Her last day of work was July 8, 2005.
Born the middle child of double educator parents, Susan Bridges was raised in Decatur, Georgia with two sisters. “Of those to whom much is given, much shall be required,” often quoted by her father, this became the wisdom from which she gained strength throughout her many years and contributions to our future. Jones says she started in education because she was reared in an education household but she has stayed in education because she was reared in an education household but she has stayed in education because her passion is for children. “Seeing so many children with so many needs has been my inspiration over the years,” Jones explained. “A personal strength is that I can love all children unconditionally.”
She graduated with her BS from FSU in 1970, majoring in elementary education and visual disabilities. (A school memory includes dissecting eyeballs). Her first teaching experience was in Leon County as a teacher of the visually impaired. Her second year of teaching, with high school gifted students, occurred in Charlotte County, where re recollects observing animal surgeries and other medical learnings with her top students. Having added physical handicaps to her teacher certification, she next found herself in Sarasota County, three years, working with visually and physically handicapped children and in a 2nd/3rd grade combo classroom.
In 1975, she headed back to Tallahassee to work on her masters degree while teaching physically handicapped children, but she fell in love with another teacher of the visually impaired, Donovan Jones. After a courtship that included love notes in Braille, they married outdoors, amid a field of lilies at the family beach cottage in St. Teresa, Florida. Family plans sidelined the masters degree, but produced three beautiful babies, Donovan, Forrest, and Blaire, who have grown into fine young adults; the eldest and youngest teach locally at Scott Lake Elementary, and Forrest is a mortgage broker obtaining his real estate license.
During this time, Mrs. Jones established the first preschool program for special education children in Leon County. In 1979, the Jones’ decided to move to Donovan’s hometown, Lakeland. Mrs. Jones remember that Doris Sanders challenged her “if you can find enough special education kids, you can start the first preschool in Polk County, Too.” She found enough to begin programs in Lakeland and Dundee, and taught the OJ Pope program for one year before she was asked to become the curriculum assistant “second assistant principal” at Pope, where she remained for six years.
She acquired that elusive masters degree in 1985, in Administration & Supervision through NOVA. In 1987, she achieved another first: becoming one of four principal interns in Polk County, at Boswell Elementary. She received her first principalship at Kathleen Elementary later that year. In 1990, she moved to Medulla Elementary where she led for six years. She is very proud that a wing at Medulla was named in her honor in 1996.
Mrs. Jones notes that her husband, Donovan, also progressed up the education path having been an assistant principal at a school for the blind, a consultant for DOE, , then recruited by PCSB to become a District Supervisor of visual, physical and hearing impaired. “He missed the children and returned to the principalship, first at Polk Life and Learning, then at Highland City Elementary,” she explained. “We felt ‘twice-experienced’ and twice-blessed,’ sharing our dual education activities and issues at home. Donovan Jones contributed 26 years to education, seventeen in Polk, before his unfortunate early death in 1994.
In late 1996, Jones accepted a promotion to Southwest Area Assistant Superintendent, working tirelessly to provide leadership and support to schools and principals under two superintendents. Mrs. Jones was nearly side-lined herself in 1999, when she developed a rare brain artery inflammation, aneurysm, and resulting brain surgery that might have caused permanent blindness or paralysis. She was revered by many who watched her amazing struggle to a full recovery and return to many more years of contributions to Polk County.
In 2002, she became Northwest Area Superintendent when all superintendents were shifted to new areas. Jones notes, “it was a battle to get students and learning viewed as a priority in Polk County,” and was her personal mission as assistant superintendent. She is very excited with the prospect of the country’s new leadership with her personal mission as assistant superintendent. She is very excited with the prospect of the country’s new leadership with Dr. McKinzie. “I wish I had more time to continue under her,” She added.
In 2003, when the assistant superintendent positions were dissolved, Jones returned to a principalship, choosing Southwest Elementary, from where to officially retire after her extensive 35 year education career. She has been a beloved team member for two years, working arm-in-arm with new assistant, Karla Collins, her dedicated staff, and a small army of 500 knowledge-hungry K-5 learners.
“Educators can make a break children, spoke Jones, who has contributed heartily to improving the education profession. She has been a peer principal (mentor) to new and interning principals, helped develop Polk County’s Citizenship Values program, worked as a Practicum adviser for Nova University, and was a member of the district’s Strategic Planning team. She has participated on district and state steering committees for special education and has been a teacher trainer for beginning teachers. She currently teaches evening classes for Southeastern College and is a state observer for Reading First Academics.
Her personal contributions include serving as a financial committee member, principal search committee member, and a board member for Santa Fe Catholic High, over a three year period. She was also a school/church liaison, FSU Seminoles booster, and team mom, board member, and scorekeeper for Lakeland Highlands Youth Baseball every year for 14 years.
Jones shared that she has like the educational movement towards better accountability provided by FCAT and NCLB, but does not like what the state is doing with the results. “There is not another profession in the world held to such a high standard,” she said. “If you don’t meet the defined standards at 100%, you are deemed failing (even if your results are 90%). Thankfully, Southwest Elementary is one of eight county school to meet the national standards last year.” She added, “There is so much emphasis on testing outcomes, we’re losing the joy of learning with kids. Sometimes you just have to have fun learning. The testing emphasis does not leave enough time for fun.”
She will be remembered for her quiet compassionate leadership style, her focus on children first, her dedicated long hours to improve the field, and her never ending enthusiasm for reaching children innovatively. She has given much to Polk County through a range of leadership positions and significant contributions. Despite her huge span of county administrative duties, she has remained approachable by staff and parents, and maintains a sincere interest in each whose path she crosses.
While Mrs. Jones may be officially signing off, She will not be far from education. Her faithful spies note she continues taking additional training, is planning a summer professional conferences including ASBA, and may continue consultative support in the district. She has two new young school teachers in the family to keep her up on the latest trends in education, and Southwest beckons her to be their school volunteer. There are still children with many needs…and rumor has it they need a snow cone maker on Fridays…
Mrs. Jones’ legacy with children will leave a lasting impression on the hearts of many.