When Switzerland County School Superintendent Mike Jones submitted his retirement request to the Switzerland County School Board on Monday night, it ended more than just a six year term as superintendent — it ended an association with the school corporation that had lasted over a half century.
The paperwork shows that Jones will retire from his superintendent’s post on June 30th; and that will conclude years as an employee of the corporation and also his time as a student.
“It will be 51 of the last 55 years that I’ve been connected to the schools here,” Jones said. “I was just thinking, Denny Jackson and I started teaching on the same day here. We were hired in 1979 in August. He’s a little older than me, but ironically we’re leaving at the same time (Jackson’s retirement was also approved at Monday’s meeting).”
Jones was born on Meade’s Ridge in Patriot, the son of Ben and Leah Jones. He was born at home — in the same home, in fact, as a prominent person in Patriot history.
“I didn’t find this out until later, but was born in the same house that Elwood Mead was born in,” Jones said of the architect of the Hoover Dam whom Lake Mead is named after. “I knew that our farm had been part of the Mead farm, but I didn’t know that Elwood Mead’s father had built that house, and it was a tenant house on my grandfather, Marshall Cook’s, farm. That’s the house I was born in.”
Jones attended first through sixth grade at Patriot, noting that when he started it was still under the Patriot-Posey School Corporation, prior to the merging with Vevay to form the Switzerland County School Corporation. That happened in 1966.
By the time he went to junior high school, the two corporations were in the process of merging schools, so Jones attended seventh grade and the first semester of eighth grade in the old administration building (the old Vevay High School), before moving to Switzerland County Junior-Senior High School for the second semester of his eighth grade year. Prior to the construction of Switzerland County Middle School in 1995, the high school housed 7th through 12th grades.
After graduating from Switzerland County High School in 1975, Jones then attended Georgetown College in Kentucky, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree, Jones returned here and began teaching that fall.
Jones did his administrative degree through Indiana University; and his EDS degree through Indiana State University.
He continued to teach for 28 years before spending his final 11 years in administration.
“That made me a little different,” Jones said. “Very few superintendents spend 28 years in the classroom, but I feel like being in the classroom all that time probably prepared me better, I think, that just teaching a few years and then going right into administration — because I know that the classroom is where it happens.”
Jones’ first stop in administration was serving as principal of Switzerland County Elementary School, which he did for five years; before moving to the superintendent’s position for the past six years.
“I took over when Itsy Jones was moved down to Jeff-Craig, I got that job,” Jones said of Switzerland County Elementary School. “And then I was there until 2012, when I was hired as superintendent.”
As he looks back over his six years in the top spot, Jones sees many accomplishments that he’s proud to have been a part of, all of which have benefited the students.
“I think the moving forward in getting an SRO (School Resource Officer), even though we need to do so much more, I think that’s been a blessing to the community,” he said. “I think the one-to-one with the computers, hiring the instructional resource teachers that were there to help the teachers get prepared for putting the technology into academics.”
And there’s also the after school and Pre-kindergarten programs, a particular point of pride for the superintendent.
“The after school program that we did through the 21st Century Grant, and our pre-school program — which if there’s anything that I like to see expand, I’d like to see the Pre-K, because what I saw was that every year we were getting more and more students coming into kindergarten that didn’t have strong support at home, didn’t have the opportunity to go to a good pre-school or daycare,” Jones said. “I’m hoping that’s something that can expand over the years.”
And as he wraps up more than 50 years, Jones is also aware of all of the changes in education that have occurred since he entered first grade in 1963.
“It’s a lot different,” he said. “I think mostly for the good, but I guess coming from that generation, I guess life was a lot simpler back then. Maybe we didn’t know how good we had it. We went to Patriot school, and we’d go out on the playground; and back then, the school was the center of the community. There was a guy who lived across the street. He’d come up and hold the jump rope for kids or umpire a ball game. You didn’t think about people — you knew everybody.”
Jones has a specific memory of just how things have changed.
“In 1968, I was in the sixth grade, and that was when there was a murder in Patriot,” he said. “The alleged killer was at large. There wasn’t anything about lock downs, we were out playing in on the playground, and we went out in the woods wondering if we’d see him in the woods behind the school. There was no fear.”
Jones recalls a list of teachers who had a profound impact on his life: from Miss Dorothy Ollcott, who taught there for 48 years; to Lillian Bosaw to Evelyn Craig and Miss Edna and others — all who saw teaching as a calling and a passion rather than just a job.
“As I look back on it, there’s just so many people that you meet along the way. Kids that you teach. Staff people that you work with, some of them are gone now,” Jones said. “It’s really pretty amazing, how quick it goes by. How many people come into your life and just the right time and help you.”
Jones is leaving his superintendent’s job, but says that he truly has no other plans as of yet, aside from continuing his pastor’s duties at Patriot Baptist Church — but he’s sure that he’ll be around.
“People used to tell me, because I had friends who were going to retire, and I’d say, ‘man, I hope you don’t,’ and they’d say, ‘You know, it’s just time’,” Jones said. “I guess for me, I feel like I’ve accomplished some things here. Hopefully I’ve made it easier for the next person coming in here after me; and I’m ready to go. I can’t sit down, I’ll be doing something. My hope would be, I’d like to find something part time to do. I’m planning on volunteering at the elementary schools, maybe working with the second graders reading or something like that. I’ll always be connected to Switzerland County Schools.”
And as he leaves, what’s Mike Jones consider his biggest accomplishment?
“When I wanted to be a superintendent, I always told myself this. When I was teaching, when the superintendent walked down the hall, immediately a red flag went up,” he said. “If a superintendent came in your room, you knew something was probably up. I wanted to be a superintendent who could go in the rooms, and the teachers would feel comfortable and know that I was just there to offer to help, to see how they were doing. I think I accomplished that. I’m proud of that. I’ve never had a teacher come to me and say that they were threatened by me being in their room. I feel like that’s something. That may be my greatest accomplishment. I always said that I wanted to have a relationship with teachers that would be positive. I know what it’s like to be in a classroom — I was there for 28 years. I wanted to be different in that way.”