Louisianians of the Year
Eight of Our Favorites Making This State Great
(page 5 of 8)
Kira Orange Jones
New Orleans/Baton Rouge
Executive director, Teach for America/Greater New Orleans
Member, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Making Policy and Shaping Lives
You could say that Kira Orange Jones, who comes from a family of educators, was genetically predisposed to becoming a teacher. But when she took her first classroom job, with Teach for America, she intended it as a short-term service commitment that she would complete before going on to become a documentary filmmaker.
“It wasn’t until I stood before my 27 fourth-graders and was responsible for their achievement and saw their curiosity and their characters being formed that I realized this was the most substantial leadership opportunity I’ll ever have,” she says.
The moment marked the beginning not only of her career in education but also of a long-term relationship with Louisiana. “I had never been in the South before, and I never thought I’d still be in Louisiana 12 years later,” she says.
Growing up in the Bronx, the New York native understood the value of a quality education as she saw how hard her mother, a single parent, worked to send her children to good schools that would help them get into college.
Orange Jones graduated from Wesleyan University and earned a master’s degree in education from Harvard University before taking the two-year teaching assignment in Louisiana. Through her eye-opening experience at Eden Park Elementary School in Baton Rouge, she became convinced that she should focus not only on teaching but also on policy decisions that affect classroom learning.
When her teaching assignment ended, she stayed on in Baton Rouge, serving as school director in a Teach for America summer institute and helping to lead the organization’s local expansion. Eventually, she rose through the organization’s ranks and, in 2006, became executive director of Teach for America for Greater New Orleans.
In 2012, Orange Jones and two other individuals received the national Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership for their combined work to expand educational opportunities in New Orleans. Most recently, she became an elected member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Orange Jones feels her early experiences in teaching led her naturally toward positions where she could help shape educational policy.
“In my classroom, I’d see kids who were on their fourth or fifth time taking an exam that could put them on an entirely different track in life – their futures hung in the balance,” she says.
Although she believes the interaction between student and teacher is crucial to learning, she adds that “everything around that interaction usually connects back to a policy decision.”
Orange Jones wants to help make decisions that can improve the learning environment and help teachers connect with kids. “When you see a great teacher, you’re watching art, science – even magic in lots of ways,” she says. “Teaching is a very hard thing to do.”