Q & A | Meet Dr. Devon Horton, JCPS’s new chief of schools

He began his new job as JCPS chief of schools on June 25.

By Toni Konz Tatman | JCPS Communications  

chief of schools sitting at desk in office

Dr. Devon Horton, an experienced educator and award-winning school turnaround leader, is the new chief of schools for Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS).

In this role, he will oversee the district's assistant superintendents and focus on operational oversight and guidance and consistent evaluation of school principals.

“We are transforming education in JCPS, and Dr. Devon Horton is the right person at the right time to help lead that work,” said Superintendent Marty Pollio, in announcing Horton's hiring on May 30. "Dr. Horton’s experience will only strengthen the leadership team we’re building in JCPS as we continue moving forward tackling key priorities, such as increasing student engagement and closing the achievement gap.” 

Horton, who was previously deputy superintendent in East St. Louis School District 189, says he is honored to have the opportunity to join the JCPS team.

"Under Dr. Pollio’s leadership, the district is blazing a path to become one of the nation’s most forward-thinking school communities," he said. "Closing the opportunity gap is step one in the process of closing the achievement gap for all students. The JCPS family is committing and prioritizing unbelievable opportunities for all, and my entire career has prepared me for this moment to jump right into the trenches with this team and bring about systemic change across the district.”

We recently sat down with Dr. Horton and asked him a series of questions about his background and ideas for JCPS.

Question: Where are you originally from, where did you grow up? Did you always know you wanted to be an educator?

Answer: I am a native of Chicago, and I grew up in the hardened climate of Bronzeville's Robert Taylor Homes housing projects. Throughout my experience in education from the lens of a student, teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, and deputy superintendent, I have learned that hard work and perseverance is my proven formula for success. My personal drive to exceed expectations and attain excellence against all odds is an exemplary model for those who choose to succeed in any capacity.

Q: You started your career as a teacher, what grade and subject did you teach? What advice to you have for our classroom teachers?

A: I taught middle school, specifically math and social science. The most successful way to reach any and all students is by being culturally responsive. This means that our teachers need to have positive perspectives about the parents and community and communicate high expectations. It also means that they must teach and learn within the context of the culture and create student-centered instruction as well as have the ability to reshape curriculum. A teacher must become a facilitator of student learning. If you can master these skills, you can become a highly effective teacher.

Q: What are your hopes as you become our chief of schools? 

A: I have heard and read some great things about the leadership and teachers in JCPS. Principals and teachers are reflective and want their students to become great. I am hoping to bring resources and opportunities for our leaders across the district to lead their schools to an elite level nationally. I am hoping to gain the trust of all stakeholders by supporting or building structures where staff feel comfortable to take calculated risks.

Q: What is your leadership style?

A: I am a transformational leader. I truly believe in high expectations while focusing on sweating the small stuff. It’s important that as a leader, I work from all three areas: front, middle, and back. Accountability takes front and center stage when the work is happening to improve outcomes for students. 

Q: How does a district like JCPS work to decrease its achievement gap? Are you familiar with some of the programs and efforts we have tried or are trying? Do you have ideas on how we can better address this area, as well as increase learning for all students?

A: JCPS seems to have figured out a major piece of the puzzle when it comes to closing the achievement gap. That puzzle being opportunities for all students regardless of their socioeconomic status, race, or ZIP code. Meeting students where they are has to be the norm for everyone. Cycles of iterations must occur at all levels (failing faster so that we can succeed sooner), as well as feedback for students and administrators, and overall school or system structure.

I have become familiar with JCPS Backpack initiative as well as the Racial Equity policy. Both of these two initiatives have the power to make drastic changes for students as well as staff. I believe that both of these initiatives align perfectly with my personal belief that “Students do not fail; adults do.” Strong policies and intense learning structures like these two initiatives will enhance more opportunity for all students.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare/free time?

A: I enjoy spending time with my family and watching my children (Zoie, 11, and Cori, 7) play sports or participate in other extracurricular activities. I do enjoy reading great educational books as well. In addition, I consider myself to be a well-rounded sports fan. 

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

A: I truly believe that education is the greatest equalizer and that JCPS is headed in the right direction. I would also like to thank everyone from JCPS and the community who has welcomed me through social media. It was really heartfelt to receive such a warm welcome.

Dr. Horton's office number is (502) 485-3481. You can email him here and follow him on Twitter @JCPS_COS

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