The Harris Stowe State University Board of Regents has granted lifetime tenure and advancement in academic rank to Charlene Lofton Jones. Jones formerly was assistant professor of Political Science at the university. She also has taught at Saint Louis University, Lindenwood University, St. Louis Community College and Tougaloo College, as well as held leadership roles in Saint Louis Public Schools.
“The entire tenure process was both arduous and humbling,” Jones said. “You had to describe and document every aspect of your performance and contributions from the very first day you stepped into a Harris-Stowe State University classroom.”
Areas of evaluation included teaching style and effectiveness, projects spearheaded, academic and social justice programs and events created to enhance the link between the university and the community.
“It was also humbling because the tenure recommendation resulted from evaluations made by students, outstanding faculty and administrators who comprised the Rank and Tenure Committee, the provost and the university president,” Jones said.
It also inspired a look back at a long career.
Her most meaningful memory was of January 20, 2009. The historic Inauguration Day of the first African-American U.S. President Barack Obama also was scheduled day of her first class at HSSU. How could any African American turn down the opportunity to witness history in the making?
On January 20, she picked up her briefcase and walked into her HSSU American Government classroom, rather than into Obama’s inauguration.
“I saw 30 sets of eager eyes on me,” Jones said. “I slowly walked to the podium, turned around chuckled and said to myself, ‘Who knows? This just may be my privilege to teach the next Barack Obama. Lesson learned – students always first.”
In 2012 she was elected HSSU Educator of the Year by students and faculty. Along with 12 other educators from across the state, she was summoned to the state capitol to receive the Governor’s Excellence in Education Award.
Several years later, she received a telephone request to come to the university president’s office, where President Dwaun Warmack informed her that he had received a request from the superintendent of Saint Louis Public Schools Kelvin Adams to approve a leave of absence for Jones to return to SLPS to design and serve as campaign manager for an extremely important Tax Levy. Warmack told Adams that he would approve only if Jones agreed.
“I did agree, packed up my bags and moved back into the cash-strapped district for a semester,” Jones said. “Working with SLPS staff and Special Administrative Board member Richard Gaines, we passed Prop P with a crushing 70 percent of the vote.”
Prior to becoming a HSSU Political Science professor, Jones was employed 25 years for SLPS serving in a variety of positions including assistant to the superintendent, associate superintendent and campaign manager for tax and bond levy elections. She helped SLPS win 24 elections and raise over $750 million dollars for the school district. She said the most significant campaigns were the $40 million bond issue to construct a new Vashon High School, the bond issue to air-condition all SLPS schools, and several tax levies to increase teacher and staff salaries.
“When my son Mikey was a youngster he played on a Select basketball team. All of their games were held at K-12 schools in surrounding towns or in the county. I remember driving to those school sites and just marveling at how most all resembled college campuses – large areas of green space, expansive gymnasiums, shiny, sparkling equipment rooms, buildings that looked like school buildings – and then we would drive back to our city and pass our schools, buildings with crumbling roofs, sitting in cramped spaces in the middle of dilapidated neighborhoods,” she said.
“Building a brand new, state-of-the-art Vashon High School felt real good, but it still was not nearly enough to create meaningful change in our students’ academic environment – they still had to walk and navigate through abandoned buildings, some unsafe, dangerous blocks to get to the new Vashon. But at least it provided some light at the end of the tunnel.”
As for air-conditioning the city schools, she said, “County parents could never conceive of their youngsters sitting in un-air-conditioned classrooms. I remember in high school in the Spring being unable to read silently in class because the perspiration was dripping from my forehead onto the textbook, blurring the words. Our schools were like hot ovens from March sometimes through mid-October.”
Increasing teacher and staff salaries she likened to “a religious mandate.”
“City school teachers face the greatest academic, social, economic and behavioral challenges in their classrooms of teachers in any other school district in the state,” Jones said. “They give the most and they get paid the least. It was heartwarming to see city voters support these tax levies. But, because of the cruel economic and racially discriminatory school-funding structure, those with the greatest needs still receive the least.”
As for her new lifetime tenure at HSSU, she said that teaching “has never been about employment - it’s always been about having the privilege to do so. I’m committed to the HSSU classroom. Many of our students are first-generation college students, some with both hands tied behind their backs as a result of under-funded, under-resourced educational experiences. My job is to give them all the knowledge that I have in every way that I can until I see that light bulb flash in their eye that says – ‘I got it!’”