Applause and cheers erupted from the stands of Harmon Field as Dalton Education Foundation Trustee Bob Bethel presented the 32nd annual Tom Jones Educator of the Year Award to Dr. Daphnie Jones, ELL teacher at City Park, during halftime of the first Dalton High School home football game.
The Tom Jones Educator Award recognizes educators in Dalton Public Schools who have made significant contributions in the education of children in Dalton and who symbolize excellence in teaching. Candidates are chosen based on their relationship with students, accomplishments, relationship with parents and their relationship with the community.
Jones said she feels honored and humbled to have been awarded the Tom Jones Educator of the Year.
"It was a privilege just to be standing on the field alongside so many amazing educators who serve students with such dedication and passion," she said. "I sincerely appreciate all that the Foundation does for our staff and students."
Jones received a crystal apple and a check for $3,000. City Park will also receive $1,000 as a part of the grant.
As the English Language Learners Lead Teacher, Jones works with five to seven classroom teachers on a daily basis, collaborating with them in their rooms to work with English language learners. She provides leadership for the ELL department, as well as guidance about this special population to classroom teachers and administrators.
"I have had the honor of working with Daphnie over many years in a variety of ways through her work with our ELL students district-wide," said Deputy Superintendent Don Amonett. "I have never known anyone to have the level of compassion for our students, especially those who have language barriers, that she does. Her care, concern and work goes far beyond just the classroom."
Jones's list of accomplishments is impressive. As an educator for 25 years, she has worked tirelessly to build relationships with her students, primarily English language learners.
"Without building a caring and supportive environment, my students do not flourish in school," Jones said in her application. "It is important for them to feel safe, loved, respected and valued before they can reach the academic goals I establish for them."
Jones works on this from day one. She spends time talking with students about their culture, hobbies, families and more, and she works on teaching them about school in the U.S. One example of this is her teaching role with the CATapult Academy, an after-school program for new-to-the-country 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students that builds academic knowledge and cultural understanding. This helps the students become part of the school community.
Additionally, Jones has served as a mentor and the school's chess coach for the past five years. She co-sponsors the City Park Pawsome Mentoring program for 5th grade girls, gathering the girls together to hear female guest speakers, take etiquette classes and learn about the transition to middle school. Jones supports the Girls STEP club by driving students home after the meetings who would otherwise not be able to participate. She also volunteers as a Big Sister in the Big Brother Big Sister program for a student who received a REACH college scholarship in the 8th grade. Her role is to encourage and support the student as she journeys through high school and prepares for college.
Jones said that helping non-English parents feel at home in their school is a priority for her as an educator. She serves these parents by interpreting for conferences, school functions, etc and was instrumental in establishing the first parent resource center at City Park. She works with ELL parents to understand test results for their children and discusses ways to provide daily support. She also helps take photos around the school for the yearbook and social media because many parents would otherwise not have the opportunity to see their children participate in school events.
Her husband, Dalton Middle School Principal Phil Jones, said her life story mirrors that of many of the district's students. The expectations for a girl from the small island of Roatan, Honduras were not that she would graduate from high school, go to college, and become a teacher in the U.S.
"I believe that because she overcame so many obstacles to become successful is why she easily builds relationships with students and is able to push and support them to achieve at the highest level possible," he said. "She still stays in touch with students whose lives she has influenced throughout the years in DPS. Many are students who probably weren't supposed to "make it," but are now teachers, accountants, engineers, nurses... She works tirelessly to ensure she always gives 110 percent to her students and school, and her passion for helping students is amazing."
Jones spent the first six years of her career teaching in Honduras and the last 19 in the U.S. working for DPS. She taught at Dalton Middle for eight years and has been at City Park for eleven. During that time she was recognized as Teacher of the Year for Dalton Middle, Foundation grant winner and participated in the Cox Leadership and Vision Institute.
"My plan was to stay for a few years and return to Honduras, but after working for a year at DPS, I fell in love with its vision of serving ALL students, the wonderful people with whom I worked, and our students and their families," explained Jones.
She continued her journey by obtaining a work permit, then permanent residency, and finally U.S. citizenship. She received her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Alabama in 2015.
"This is the reason my work as an educator is not just a job; it is a passion," she explained. "It is my way of fulfilling my purpose on Earth. I continue to grow as a person and as an educator daily."
The Tom Jones Educator Award is named in memory of Tom Jones, a prominent Dalton businessman who served on the Dalton Board of Education for 26 years and was chairman from 1967 to 1986. The award was started in 1987. Jones, who was the co-founder of J+J Flooring Group, was a native of Dalton and a product of Dalton Public Schools. Trish Bethel, daughter of Tom Jones, and her two sons, Bob and Charlie Bethel, were there to make the presentation on behalf of the Bethel family.
The other finalists for the 2018 Tom Jones Award were:
Dr. Amy Bowers – District Exceptional Student Services
Dr. BethAnn Browning – Blue Ridge School Assistant Principal
Dr. Kit Carpenter – Dalton Alternative Educational Program
Dr. Michael Coulter – Dalton High School
Dr. Lisa Cushman – City Park STEM
Dr. William Lanford – Morris Innovative High School
Ms. Suzy Thomas – Westwood School
Ms. Nancy Zahn – Dalton Middle School Assistant Principal