Shelly Davis-Jones (EdD Educational Leadership, ’13)

College of Education Spotlight

by KATY CESAROTTI and LAURA JANOTA

In Illinois, women make up 78% of the state’s public school educators, but only 28% of its superintendents — and African American women are even further underrepresented. Dr. Shelly Davis-Jones (EdD Educational Leadership, ’13) is determined to change that.

A passionate advocate for educational rights, Davis-Jones is committed to creating new pathways forward: for students to become college ready, and for fellow educators to better serve public schools.

“As educators, we want to be known as teachers who have a passion for teaching,” she told the staff and teachers at a welcome session last summer, according to the Chicago Tribune. “We are experts in our field, and we want to touch the lives of every child we teach.”

Davis-Jones is the superintendent of Dolton School District 149, a southern Cook County school district with approximately 2,700 students, eight schools and 200 employees. She first arrived in District 149 as assistant principal of Diekman Elementary School, rising through the school system to become principal of Diekman, then associate superintendent of District 149 while she completed her doctorate in educational leadership at Roosevelt.

Davis-Jones says she didn’t have it on her radar to become Dolton district superintendent. But when the opportunity came her way in 2012, her Roosevelt education had prepared her well for her next steps.

“Going through Roosevelt’s doctoral program built my confidence,” said Davis-Jones. “The program helped me to succeed at a higher level, particularly on the data side of things. At Roosevelt, I learned a lot about running a fiscally sound district, about finances, about levies,” all of which are skills that a superintendent must understand, she said.

“Going through Roosevelt’s doctoral program built my confidence. The program helped me to succeed at a higher level, particularly on the data side of things.”

— Dr. Shelly Davis-Jones
(EdD Educational Leadership, ’13)

“Certainly on the issue of fiscal responsibility, I learned a lot,” she said.

Among her mentors at Roosevelt were former educational leadership professor Martin Jason and Tom Kersten, who is now an adjunct faculty member in the College of Education’s Educational Leadership program. “I dove into their courses,” said Davis-Jones, who believes what she learned in the Roosevelt program can be instrumental in helping to educate kids and improve student learning.

Since graduation, Davis-Jones has remained deeply embedded in the Roosevelt community. This June, she led a cohort of principal and literacy coaches from her district to attend Roosevelt’s Summer Reading Clinic through funding from IL-EMPOWER, a competitive Illinois State Board of Education grant.

The clinic is a model learning laboratory for Margaret Policastro’s new balanced literary approach, which helps elementary and middle school students can access books year round, preventing loss of reading comprehension skills and closing the achievement gap over the academic break.

“We are making great strides with Roosevelt,” Davis-Jones said. “We’ve had meetings. Dr. Policastro has met with our principals. She’s visited our schools,” and the reading professor has also done coaching with District 149 faculty.

“We understand that reading is the foundation of everything we do,” Davis-Jones said.

So far in 2019, her district’s summer reading program has published over 100 blogposts from students on their favorite books. “This is my second year coming to the Summer School Enrichment Program AND AM SO EXCITED!!!,” wrote student Oluwanifemi Ajayi on the blog. “All the books that were given to me got my attention and I liked them.”

“We understand that reading is the foundation of everything we do.”

— Dr. Shelly Davis-Jones
(EdD Educational Leadership, ’13)

This summer, District 149 and Roosevelt are also launching the Job Embedded Teacher Preparation Program (JET Prep), which creates a track for paraprofessionals, teaching assistants and substitute teachers in the district to teach first through sixth grade.

Over the course of the two-year program, participants gain hands-on classroom experience and one-on-one mentorship from experienced educators as they navigate the process of student teaching and Illinois licensure. Students graduate JET Prep with a Roosevelt master’s degree in elementary education and thorough preparation for full-time positions within Davis-Jones’ district.

Through JET Prep, more aspiring teachers will have access to the educational opportunities at Roosevelt that supported Davis-Jones, and perhaps one day will rise to the position of superintendent, like she has.

“While working 12 to 14 hours a day, taking doctoral classes during the evenings after work, researching information on my topic of study, and writing four straight years on my dissertation day and night was the hardest challenge of my life, I never stopped working hard for the children in School District 149,” Davis-Jones wrote on the district’s website. “What I want our children in School District 149 to know is that greatness comes with the price of hard work, dedication, commitment and perseverance.”

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