To hear his story, many would agree that Nathaniel Jones is not only a talented man, but also a lucky one. If you were to ask him, he’d humbly refer to himself as blessed. The esteemed educator has garnered several accolades and been highly instrumental in making Pike Township a stellar academic environment. Of his many recognitions — the Milken Educator Award, Sagamore of the Wabash, becoming one of the state’s youngest principals in the late ’70s and becoming Pike’s first Black superintendent in 2003 — Jones is most proud of the things that can’t be put on plaques or trophies.
“Those would be important milestones, but that’s not my legacy,” he said of his list of accomplishments. In a moment of reflection, Jones recalls the many students he’s worked with individually and the educators he’s mentored as his most important career highlights.
This year, Jones’s 43rd in the field, will be his last.
“I decided that I wanted an opportunity to explore other options and I, of course, want to spend more time with my family,” said Jones. “This was a bittersweet decision, because I love my job. I have been really blessed to be able to say that, in 43 years, not once have I not enjoyed my job, and that’s pretty rare.”
Jones owes this to the fact that he found his passion for education long ago. “I just feel like this was my calling.”
First in a line of firsts
Jones’ first teaching job came while he was still in undergrad at IUPUI’s School Of Education. “I never had to apply for jobs; they just happened,” he said. “I didn’t apply to be a teacher in IPS. We had an administrator from IPS visit IU, and I was in class giving a presentation. Afterward, I was offered a job on the spot.” His position in IPS, where he served for five years, was number one in a coming line of firsts: he became the first male first-grade teacher in the district.
He said it was an “aha” moment in his career. “I had an opportunity to work with students who didn’t even know their proper names. They had tons of nicknames, like for example, ‘Junebug’ or ‘Little Man.’ I thought, that’s not your name,” said Jones. “We worked on so much outside academics so these children would have a strong foundation to navigate through the educational system.
“I was so proud, these were children who couldn’t really read or spell and do basic math in first grade, and by the end, they were reading at grade level or performing above.”
It was then, Jones said, that he knew this path was for him.
“It is so important that as adults, regardless of if you’re an educator or not, that we never block opportunities for our kids to do their best.”
It was destined to be
The experience at IPS was a precursor to the rest of what Jones describes as an outstanding career. Another fateful experience led him to the halls of Washington Township. A friend of his couldn’t locate the township’s central office, so Jones drove her there. “It was pouring down rain, so I escorted her to the door with my umbrella. The receptionist talked to me, and before I left gave me an application. I wasn’t even seeking a job, but guess who got called for the interview,” he said with a laugh. While in Washington, Jones served in various capacities as principal, director of elementary education and assistant superintendent of curriculum/instruction. At one point during his 25-year term, he held three positions simultaneously.
In 2003, Jones took his talents to Pike Township at the behest of one of his mentees. Though he’d accomplished quite a bit, he did not have a doctorate degree — a point that, at the time, he believed would hold him back. Over a decade later, he has received one (honorary) and learned many other lessons along the way.
“I know this was a place I was destined to be. Pike has a tremendous reputation. It’s a great community where people care, and that’s the thing I wanted most — a school environment that felt like a family,” he said.
During his tenure, Pike has ranked among the highest in the city in district-wide ISTEP scores; experienced a decrease in achievement gaps among white, Black and Hispanic students; achieved a 91 percent graduation rate and numerous other accolades. In 2014, Pike received a multi-million dollar grant from President Obama to further its STEM education programs on the high school level.
Regina Randolph, a member of Pike’s school board, said Jones’s dedication has played an invaluable part in the success of the district. “Mr. Jones is committed to providing an engaging educational experience for all our learners, an excellent working environment for all employees as well as developing community partnerships so students are ready for the next economy,” she said. “He was able to keep this commitment by keeping children at the center of all his decision making.”
Julie Gossard, who has taught in the district for 30 years, said Jones’s advocacy and guidance will be greatly missed. “To say Superintendent Jones is very unique and special is truly an understatement. He is an extraordinarily gifted educator and leader. He has never ever lost his perspective of what it was like to be in the classroom and how very important it is to always maintain the highest standards and expectations for every child every single day,” said Gossard. “His dedication, passion and impact for our district and community have been second to none, and his rich legacy will be felt long after his retirement this month.”
Going on and moving forward
“One of the lessons I’ve learned, especially now that I’m 65, is that no one is more important than someone else,” said Jones. “We’re all equal. When I mentor others, I try to get them to understand that a position is a position. It’s what you do with that position that makes the difference.”
Jones said his philosophy of working hard, being the very best you can be and contributing to others has been the key to his longevity. So, what’s next for Nathan Jones? For now, that answer has yet to reveal itself.
“Everyone has asked me that, and I say I typically never plan the next event. I go out with an open mind and let the Lord lead me, because he hasn’t let me down yet.”