By AARON GETTINGER
Dr. Gregory Jones, principal of Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., received the the Stanley C. Golder Leadership Award from Golden Apple, a nonprofit that recognizes and develops teacher and school leadership excellence at Illinois schools, at a surprise school assembly on Wednesday, April 4.
Jones entered the school auditorium to raucous applause from 700 Kenwood students, faculty, staff, Golden Apple representatives and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson. She said Jones was one of the best—if not the best—principals at Chicago Public Schools.
“I am deeply humbled and proud to be a part of this school and community, as well as the City of Chicago,” Jones said. “This is an honor, and it’s an honor to be a part of a great school community, with great teachers and support staff and an amazing leadership team—and, without question, the most powerful and amazing group of young people who have ever walked into a high school.”
Golden Apple President and CEO Alicia Winckler said Jones won the award out of 80 nominees and stressed the importance of the school visit to her organization’s decision. She said they interviewed three students who opened stories about their principal with, “Dr Jones saved my life.”
The Golder Leadership Award will provide Jones the opportunity to take a spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University and a $10,000 cash award, half going towards his professional development and half going to a project of his choosing. Jones will become a Golden Apple Academy of Educators fellow and will be featured this spring in a WTTW (PBS) program.
The school’s choir and the Kenwood Broncos cheerleaders performed during the celebration.
Jones said Kenwood Academy is Chicago’s only school, and perhaps the only one nationwide, where students off all backgrounds choose to attend a mostly black, neighborhood school and where neighborhood students who may get perfect SAT scores choose to enroll at a school where the majority of students receive a free or reduced-price lunch.
Furthermore, Jones said Kenwood is the only school wherein a majority of students are not selectively enrolled where students score above the national average on standardized tests. “Young people who graduate from this school will be comfortable in any academic and social setting—and you’re prepared,” he said.
Jones recounted his childhood, recalling his mother’s insistence on academic excellence but the difficulty of growing up in West Side public housing and not seeing anyone with a college education. “The impact I think I’m a part of—not solely responsible, a part of—is helping thousands of young people in our city to help thousands of people around the world to help thousands of people in this country.”
Kenwood student body president Amaya Lorick said she was happy her participation in Golden Apple’s visit helped her principal receive the award. She effusively praised him: “I can just go in his office, put my feet up, and say, ‘Dr. Jones, well’—whatever. And then we’ll get into a whole conversation.”
Lorick said she has especially bonded with Jones over their mutual West Side heritage and that he is the reason she will matriculate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles this fall.
“The right person got this. Like my friend said, he doesn’t put up a front. He’s real. We’re so happy that finally a real Chicago black man who came up from the bottom, like the Drake song, got something,” Lorick said. “You can see with Dr. Jones: a person who doesn’t really raise his voice, doesn’t go into anything without a smile—you really see how the soft-spoken person can actually achieve something.”