When Carolyn Jones (BA, ’01; MA, ’03) entered Roosevelt University at the age of 19, she was a single mother with a 10-month-old son. She had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, only that it should involve helping children.
Today she is principal of Perkins Bass Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side and a PhD candidate in education at Illinois State University. Her goal is to rise to the highest level of education leadership possible, where she hopes to make policy that helps many, many children.
Over the years, Jones spent a lot of time at Roosevelt; she received her bachelor’s in childhood education, a master’s in language and literacy and a reading specialist certificate at the University. She credits Roosevelt with laying the groundwork for her success, and urges all of her students at Perkins Bass to develop the same “relentless drive” for knowledge that she cultivated at Roosevelt University.
“Roosevelt saved my life,” Jones said. “So many people told me that my life was over when I had a baby, but I was determined to prove the naysayers wrong. Roosevelt gave me the foundation to do it.”
She also met her husband, who worked in Roosevelt’s cafeteria at the time, in the Auditorium Building. The couple had two children and, for more than a decade, considered Roosevelt a second home. “My kids literally grew up at Roosevelt,” she said.
Her professors remember the woman she was during those years. “There was a fire in her eyes,” said elementary education and reading professor Margaret Policastro, who met Jones while she was working on her reading specialist certificate. “The reading program was at the Schaumburg Campus, which meant she had to commute a long way. In the summer, she brought her children with her. She was determined. You could see that nothing was going to stop her.”
The idea of “literacy as a form of liberation” fueled Jones’ ambitions.
“There is so much power in literacy,” she said. “Once you have it, no one can take it away, and no one can prevent you from learning as much as you can. That quest for knowledge, and the realization that education was the key to fulfilling my dreams — all that happened within the walls of Roosevelt University.”
After 12 years of teaching at Bond Elementary School in Chicago, Jones moved to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) administration because she realized she could help more children. Before she became its principal, Perkins Bass was on probation as one of the lowest performers in CPS. She immediately rewrote the school’s mission and vision to emphasize scholastic excellence. Since then, Perkins Bass has been taken off probation, becoming a “2-plus” school on the cusp of earning the coveted “Level 1” designation given to Chicago schools in “excellent standing.”
For Jones, such success has an extra measure of meaning because she lived as a teen in the neighborhood where Perkins Bass is located.
“I wanted to come back to where I started, so that I could give something back to the community,” Jones said.
And that’s exactly what she is doing.