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Jones recognized for leading schools

The Georgia Association of Educators awarded Decatur County School Superintendent Ralph Jones with a statewide leadership award at a meeting held in Atlanta, Ga., this past weekend.

Leading local educator Calvine Rollins, vice-president of the Georgia Association of Educators, presented Jones with the organization’s Outstanding Administrator (System-wide level) at an awards dinner held as part of the association’s spring meeting.

For Jones, who is marking his 35th year as an educator, receiving the award caused him to reflect on Decatur County Schools’ accomplishments in recent years. He thanked teachers, administrators, staff, students and parents for helping the school system excel.

“I hope I have been a small part of where we are today,” said Jones, who was appointed as superintendent in 2002. “We will always ‘reach for the stars,’ and continue to set goals.”

Jones said he decided “early on” in life that he wanted to be a teacher and coach, and after succeeding in both, eventually realized he was qualified to serve in leadership positions.

Jones attained a Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education from Florida State University, where he also played football, in 1974. He then embarked on his career as an educator and sports coach at Bainbridge High School in 1974 and has served as a teacher, coach, athletic director and administrator in both the school systems of Decatur County and Grady County, where he attended school as a youth.

Recognizing the influence of his parents and coaches on preparing him to become an educator, Jones said he believes schools succeed in part when they help students by giving them opportunities to succeed beyond the classroom.

“We haven’t lost our focus—it’s about the children,” Jones said. “We have a school system that helps them develop life skills, whether it be academically, socially or through leadership.”

A man who said he is “passionate” about what he does and loves helping children, Jones credits his parents as his biggest influences growing up.

“I was blessed to have two hard-working parents,” he said. “My father worked for the railroad for 42 years, and I don’t think I ever saw him miss a day of work. My mother served lunches in the Grady County School System. They both had strong work ethics and Christian values.”

Tall and athletic, Jones enjoyed sports, particularly football, as a youth and in one sense, that love to compete also shaped his future. After learning from highly successful Grady County coaches Tommy Taylor and West Thomas, Jones began a storied coaching career of his own after becoming a teacher, leading both Bainbridge High School and Cairo High School to state football championships in 1982 and 1990, respectively.

“I have always been interested in finding ways to help people accomplish things, and when you do it right, they’re going to help you attain your goals,” Jones said. “The success of any organization always comes back to its people.”

Jones’ three golden rules as an administrator are to do right, do his best and treat other people as he would want to be treated.

“No one is bigger than the rest, including myself,” Jones said. “I believe everyone should have the opportunity to ‘get their hands dirty’ and in doing so, bring out qualities they might not have known they had and succeed by using them.”

Jones, who can often be found either working at his desk into the evening or attending a number of student extracurricular events, said he “loves to work.”

“I’ve always believed to get ahead, you have to work hard,” he said. “At times I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of family time because I was dedicated and focused on the tasks at hand. As time has passed, I’ve learned to balance better.”

The support from other school leaders, staff and parents has been crucial to Jones accomplishing his goals.

“For any project to be successful, it takes time and stability. We’re focused in what we believe and what our core values are. Our people are doing a great job. I’m blessed to be leading here. I’ve not had to fight to make improvements to our schools. If it was about children, our Board of Education and our teachers have been very supportive.”