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Leading classroom progress through the arts

Ed.D. student Kirtina Jones named A+ Fellow to advance the arts in North Carolina classrooms
Kirtina Jones, Ed.D. in Educational Leadership student, teaching in classroom

Navigating to Kirtina Jones’ classroom, her students’ artwork is displayed on the hallway walls just outside, and upon entering, visitors find a haven where children sing their multiplication tables and practice memorization through the form of dance. The integration of the arts in her classrooms has provided her students a space to navigate and discover the dynamic ways of learning that suits each individual’s personality. 

As a testament to her methods, Jones — a student in the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program at the UNC School of Education — was recently recognized by the A+ Schools of North Carolina as one of 10 A+ Fellows for 2021. Through this fellowship, a signature program of the North Carolina Arts Council, she joins a network of like-minded peers contributing to the transformation of education – driven by the philosophy that arts are fundamental for teaching and learning.

The A+ Fellowship will provide Jones with professional development opportunities for her to advance her practice, but perhaps more importantly, it will enable her to lead and to help educators around her advance their practices with the A+ philosophy in mind. 

Jones’s journey to becoming an A+ Fellow

Much like now, Jones said growing up she herself was an “A+ person,” someone who commonly uses unconventional ways to express herself. She learned through self-expression in the ways she teaches in her classroom — through visual arts, song, dance, and multimedia.

“The personality of A+ is my personality,” she said.

It wasn’t until the fourth grade, when she lost her mother, after losing her brother in second grade, that Jones developed a passion for teaching. The compassion received from her teachers at the time planted the seed for her becoming a teacher.

When it came time to go to college and start on a career path in education, Jones attended North Carolina Central University as one of the first recipients of the Ron Edmonds Scholarship for Teaching – which required four years of teaching in a Title I school after graduation. She would soon find herself at R.N. Harris Integrated Arts and Core Knowledge Magnet School, serving as a first grade teacher for five years, and later looping to second grade for the next 10 years — bringing with her a sense of community she experienced as a student and embedding it into the foundation of how she teaches.

“[As teachers] you have to learn [your students], you have to understand their interest, and then you have to integrate that into your teaching to keep them engaged and focused,” she said. “But at the same time, doing that, it just strengthens you as an educator and also builds those relationships that are so necessary.”

Four years into her career, Jones won Teacher of the Year at her school, and in 2018, she received that distinction for all of Durham Public Schools, one of the largest districts in North Carolina. With the recognition, many opportunities would follow.

In 2011, she received her Masters of Arts in Educational Technology from N.C. Central, gaining more tools, such as multimedia, to engage her students. In 2017, Jones’s twin sister, Kirtisha, joined the Master in School Administration cohort at UNC-Chapel Hill. Witnessing her sister’s experience motivated Jones to continue her growth as an educator focused on student impact. She joined the School’s Ed.D. program in fall 2020.

“I really appreciate the intentionality of the [program.] From most universities, you don’t have that focus on social justice and the challenge to advocate in your field in a way that is meaningful.”

As a first-year student in the program, Jones is in a position to explore the various roles of leadership. She is also mindful about her passion to work with beginning teachers, allowing them the voice and space to bring new ideas into the classroom. Currently, she serves as her school’s MTSS — or Multi-Tiered Systems of Support — Coordinator, providing school-wide practices that ensure success for all students. She also sees the program’s potential to help her create more effective and supportive teaching environments.  

Collaborating to advance the teaching profession

Bridging together all of her experiences, the A+ Schools of North Carolina Fellowship is a meaningful opportunity for Jones to share her strengths and fully contribute the philosophies and passion she has for education. Through A+ conferences and institutes, she and fellow presenters will bring their different perspectives, collaboratively creating a rich environment for professional development. 

“Through the A+ Schools transformation model, you have to work together, you have to collaborate,” she said. “This occurs with teachers from all over the state, so taking those ideas and being able to shape and apply them for myself gives me a lot of appreciation for this experience.”

“Sometimes when you’re in your own four walls all the time, all you see is what you see and being able to apply others’ experiences to my own experiences, gives me a lot of takeaways and an overall appreciation for the opportunity.”

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By Chyanne Harrison