Achievement gap targetted at Capitol |

Achievement gap targetted at Capitol

Colleen Slevin
Vail, CO Colorado

DENVER ” When school superintendent Dwight Jones wanted to encourage a group of third graders who had improved their standardized test scores, he invited them to his house for a picnic.

And when it was time for a water balloon toss Jones, the state’s new education commissioner, picked a boy in wheelchair to be his partner and they won.

“It just makes you think that, no matter who you are, if Mr. Jones is on your team, you’re a winner,” said Andie Ruskin, an assistant principal at Jones’ Fountain-Fort Carson school district, who attended the party.

Jones, who has won praise for narrowing the achievement gap between white and minority students, won the support off all the members of the state education board on Friday as they picked him to succeed William Moloney as education commissioner.

Jones, the state’s first black education commissioner, said he would focus on improving achievement for all students, everyone from low-income students and minority students to average students.

“Hope is not a strategy so we have to get a real strategy that makes a difference,” said Jones, 44, the only finalist named for the job by the state board earlier this month.

During a reception in the main hallway at the education department headquarters, Jones pledged to work with the board and the department, sometimes glancing at staffers watching his remarks from a second floor balcony.

He will be paid $205,000 annually and will start June 1.

Jones was selected from a national search that attracted 16 applicants, handing in his application two days before the deadline at the urging of supporters as well as his wife, Jenifer Jones, an administrator at Colorado Springs’ Academy School District 20. The couple has three children and Jenifer Jones said her husband carefully considered the magnitude of the job and how it would affect their family.

Board member Evie Hudak, a Democrat from Westminster, said Jones’ passion for children came through in his interview with the board in a way that moved her to tears. She said the discussion seemed to unite the board members because he “renewed our commitment to education.”

The state education board oversees public kindergarten- through 12-grade schools and hires the commissioner to oversee the education department.

While Democrats now control the Legislature and the governor’s office, Republicans still have a 4-3 edge on the state education board, whose members are elected.

Jones is a Democrat but he listed former Republican Gov. Bill Owens as his first reference on his resume.

Jones also served on the team advising Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter on education issues after he was elected last fall. Ritter has set goals of cutting the statewide achievement gap and high school dropout rate by half in 10 years.

Jones has served as superintendent of Fountain-Fort Carson since 2003 after serving two years as assistant superintendent for the district, which has some schools on the Army post. The district has worked to aggressively analyze the results of the state’s standardized tests to keep tabs on students

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