Pine Bluff School Board secretary Leon Jones Sr. told the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club on Thursday that his commitment to childhood education and a desire to improve young lives led him to the decision to run for a school board position in the summer of 2012.
“I have never wanted to be a politician but I began to notice what was going on in the Pine Bluff School District,” Jones said. “The board changed over the last decade or so into something I didn’t recognize. I saw a population of students who seemingly never set foot in a school. I began to question how my own family situation was when our children were growing up and wondered what was different today.”
Jones said he and his wife, Beverly, principal at Oak Park Elementary School, were heavily involved in the educational development of their children.
“When our kids were 3, 4 and 5 I had them study the Word Power section in each issue of the Reader’s Digest,” Jones said. “Each issue had 20 words that aren’t normally heard and after a year of study it exploded their vocabulary. Parents must take the time to be actively involved in their children’s education.
“I began to look at the Pine Bluff School Board three years ago and attended several meetings,” Jones said. “When my kids were in school it seemed like there was harmony on the school board and in the community. I found out that the whole agenda of the school board had changed since that time. The agenda should be focused on the young people. If it is focused on their own aggrandizement then they are missing the boat.”
Jones said that when he was growing up in the small Mississippi River Delta town of Hughes. his teachers pushed their students to succeed.
“Out of 47 graduates in my class, 35 of us went to college,” Jones said. “Now, out of the 75 or 80 graduates only 20 go to college. What has happened? Nowadays children seem to learn what they want to learn. Our children are graduating without the skills needed to get a job. I wanted to get on the school board to change what is happening in Pine Bluff.”
Jones said that just as a mathematician goes back to the start of a problem to solve it the answer to improving childhood education is starting as early in the process as possible.
“During the school board campaign I heard people say we should make sure and catch any students who are in trouble academically by the eighth grade,” Jones said. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Why on earth would we wait that long? Get to them as soon as possible even when they are still in the womb. Seriously, you should talk to your children even before they are born. My son lives with his family in Boston, Mas., and before their youngest child was born he talked to her. She is 6 weeks old now and they say that she actually said hi to her older sister.”
“Now, you can believe what you want but I believe that she said hi,” Jones said with a smile as the audience chuckled.
“My point is when you teach a child early they only know what you teach them but if you wait and let others do the teaching, then you don’t have a clue what it is that they are learning.”
Jones said he was part of a group from the Pen or Pencil initiative of Interested Citizens for Voter Registration that took a group of young people to New Orleans for an educational event.
“The winners received certificates and were required to sign their certificates,” Jones said. “One of the boys in our group was entering the eighth grade and he told me that he couldn’t write. An eighth-grader who can’t sign his own name? How can this be?”
Jones said he wants children today to have the same opportunity for advancement that he had.
“Our teachers pushed us,” Jones said. “Students need to be pushed now. A friend of mine has a popcorn stand in the mall and whenever a child comes to him and asks for a job he gives them a simple test. He asks them to make change for one dollar and half of them can’t do it. Young people today can’t settle for B’s and C’s; they should get A’s. Let’s work on children one child at a time.”