Mrs. Jones worked for Seattle Public Schools for nearly 50 years, most notably as a tough but fun-loving administrator at Washington Middle School. She died on Dec. 27.
Jeannette Jones weighed barely over 100 pounds, but she was hard to miss.
At Washington Middle School, where she worked as an administrator and disciplinarian for three decades, you could often find her atop a chair, bullhorn in hand, telling students to pull up their pants or counting the seconds until the bell rang.
When she died last month at 72, hundreds took to social media and shared their stories of Mrs. Jones, a proud graduate of Garfield High School, a lover of the color purple and a dedicated educator of Seattle’s Central District preteens.
The cause was cancer, her family said.
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Many students at Washington Middle got to know her in detention, where she had a reputation for being firm yet compassionate. By the time she wrapped up her 47-year career at Seattle Public Schools in 2016, more than a dozen of her former students had become her godchildren.
“There are very few people who live their calling,” said Matthew Jones, her husband of 49 years. “And she definitely did.”
As a child, she demonstrated her knack for leading young people, her family said: In elementary school, she’d assign homework and create lesson plans for the kids in her Central District neighborhood.
She started working for the district in 1969 after graduating from Central Washington University, where she was the college’s first black homecoming queen and a regular participant in civil-rights demonstrations, said her daughter Ain Powell.
As an educator in what was once a predominantly black neighborhood, Mrs. Jones was conscious of how experiences in school could follow youth of color for the rest of their lives. Her approach to discipline was patience and consistency, and she was careful to never use suspension or expulsion as a knee-jerk response. She was also loving: She gave students rides home from parties, and got to know their families.
“Most teachers and administrators would have easily expelled me from school,” said former Washington Middle student Ahuacan DeGruy. Instead, he said, he spent an “enormous” amount of time in Mrs. Jones’ office.
DeGruy, now 41, was academically astute but had a temper, he said. While another teacher told DeGruy he wouldn’t graduate from high school, Mrs. Jones saw past the anger, even when it was directed toward her. She assured his mother that he’d be OK, never wavering in her belief that he would succeed.
It wasn’t until later that he realized the educator’s impact. DeGruy kept in touch with Mrs. Jones, returning to update her on his life milestones — graduating with honors from Morehouse College, earning an MBA from Duke University. She attended his mother’s memorial service, and DeGruy considers her two daughters as sisters.
“Mrs. Jones recognized the hardships as a young black man that I would face in my life,” said DeGruy. “She loved her students through thick and thin, and wasn’t obligated to.”
Mrs. Jones’ enthusiasm for her job made everyone a better teacher, said Bob Knatt, former band director at Washington Middle.
Over the years, photos of DeGruy and other students covered the walls of her office at Washington Middle so tightly that in some places the original paint was no longer visible. Matthew Jones, her husband, said they seldom traveled anywhere — including places as far away as New Zealand — without hearing a former student yell, “Mrs. Jones!”
Once in a while, former students who were incarcerated would call Mrs. Jones from prison.
Seeing Mrs. Jones’ community impact inspired her nephew Calvin Watts to follow in her footsteps. He’s now the superintendent of Kent School District.
When she wasn’t spending hours after school with students or organizing community events, Mrs. Jones was a cheerleading coach and volunteered at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle, where she led the Christian education program and served on the church security team. She also helped her oldest daughter, Dayo Edwards, with her catering business.
“She prided herself on being consistently Mrs. Jones in all of her glory — at church, at the grocery store, everywhere,” said Edwards.
After Mrs. Jones retired from Seattle Public Schools in 2016, Edwards helped her mother clean out her office at Washington Middle. She snapped a picture of the message Mrs. Jones had written on the whiteboard just outside her door.
It said, “While I’m gone, make good decisions.”
Mrs. Jones is survived by her two daughters, Ain Powell and Dayo Edwards, her husband, Matthew, three siblings — Francis Gladney and Frank and Roy Graham — three grandchildren and 15 godchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, at Mount Zion Baptist Church. Flowers may be sent to Columbia Funeral Home.
Editor’s note: A comment thread was erroneously attached to this story when it was first published. It has since been removed, in accordance with our general policy on obituaries for people who were not public figures.