For Leslie Jones, education was never an 'if'

Leslie Jones says that from the time she was 8, she always wanted to be a teacher: "I had wonderful teachers from kindergarten on. They made learning fun. They motivated us kids, they encouraged us. With their enthusiasm everything came to life. You could tell they loved what they were doing."Not that she needed much motivating: "I was self-motivated. I've always set goals for myself. For instance, I'd tell myself, get good grades, and I just did it. I never doubted I was going to college." Jones, who was to get her bachelor's in social sciences from CSU-Long Beach and a master's in education from CSU-Fullerton, had other things going for her. Born in Long Beach, she knew she was a Southern California belle, with a strong streak of Hollywood culture in her blood. An uncle owned a movie theater on Sunset Boulevard. Her dad worked for Rockwell here in Downey. She grew up surrounded by a large extended family. "My brothers and dad were athletic, and we watched baseball, football, golf," she says. "I play humbling golf, but I like it. My cousins and I - we played a lot, laughed a lot. Today, I'm the youngest cousin of 28. Most of them live in the area." "My extra reading," she goes on, "doesn't end with the works of my favorite mystery authors such as Patterson and Holbein, or biography (she just finished "True Compass" by Ted Kennedy), or Time and Newsweek." Sheepishly, she says, "I go read the Hollywood tabloids like People magazine. I like to read Hollywood gossip." Her other interests extend to photography and music ("The whole gamut-from classical to big bands to jazz"). A favorite travel destination is London ("It's such a fascinating place, so full of history"); she'd like to eventually travel to all the continents-Australia, Africa, South America, etc. Jones had an inauspicious start in education after college. She landed her first teaching job in 1976 as a grade two teacher at Rio Hondo Elementary. Declining enrollment (even then!) caused a transfer the following year to Imperial. Then she got a jolt at the end of the '77-'78 school year. Because of Prop.13, she got laid off. But, as if on cue, good fortune again smiled: two days prior to the start of the new school year, she got hired back, this time to teach grade three at Alameda. Her employment at the Downey School District hasn't ceased since. To this day, though, she chuckles at the thought that for the first three years of her career she taught at three different schools. Jones taught grades two, three and four from 1978 to 1989. During this time, as program funding became available, she assumed additional duties as a resource teacher for the district's school improvement program. She was then appointed as a program specialist for school improvement and elementary curriculum, reporting directly to Wendy Doty, who was then the director of instruction and curriculum at the district. Her duties would again take a dramatic shift: she went from staff to an administrative role (she got her administrative credential in 1990, the year she obtained her master's), as she subbed at such schools as Gauldin, Ward, Carpenter and Williams as principal or vice-principal, from 1989 to 1995. "From 1995 to 1998 I served as the principal at Carpenter, and from 1998 to 2004 I was the principal at Lewis. In 2004 I became director of categorical programs. These experiences at the administrative level have benefited me enormously at my job," she says. "Anyway, I consider all of them learning experiences. The insights I've gained are precious. And, still, I continue to learn." A partial list of the many wide-ranging areas Jones oversees as DUSD director of categorical programs includes federal and state-funded programs such as: Title I, which provides assistance in reading and math to 'qualified' students (those that don't yet attain the 'proficiency' level) at all 15 schools in the district, as well as OLPH and St. Raymond's; the planning and administration of programs and varied services for English Learners (last year numbering more than 4,000 students), involving Economic Impact Aid (EIA) and implementing the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), etc.; coordinating the preparation of the Single School Plan for Student Achievement in all schools, directing Categorical Program Monitoring; and, of course, the preparation of the Consolidated Application itself for said grants. "It's funny," she says. "I consider myself a verbal person and so I went for English and social sciences in school, not math and science. But now I have to deal with statistics and budgets, which of course involves a lot of figuring and reckoning, not to mention planning and monitoring and such. At any rate, there's a lot going on. We're busy." Through all this, Jones appears composed and serene-and happy. "I've been fortunate to work here. Everybody's been very supportive, and I've formed good friendships. And, yes, we have great kids in this district. They're inquisitive. They want to learn." Jones, who is unmarried, says: "I live vicariously through the students, through other children. I have plenty of nieces and nephews. I can be the one to spoil them, and then send them home to their parents."

********** Published: October 30, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 28