After 41 years at Lewis & Clark, legendary educator Vern Jones retires
April 16, 2014
In 1973, professor of education Vern Jones looked “indestructible.” He worked long hours, wrote, consulted, served on committees, exercised, volunteered, and yet managed to stay “friendly, accessible, and caring.” After completing his bachelor’s degree at Lewis & Clark in 1968, Jones had recently returned in 1973 to apply his tireless energy as a member of the undergraduate education faculty.
Now, after forty-one years of that same unflagging work ethic, Jones is retiring from Lewis & Clark. He leaves behind a five-decade legacy at the college, spanning a period that includes the formation of the graduate school and decades of public school reform.
“The graduate school will continue to build on the strong foundation that Vern helped to lay,” said Scott Fletcher, dean of the graduate school.
A career that parallels the growth of an institution
In the early 1980s, 1,200 students made up the “graduate division” at Lewis & Clark, housed in offices scattered around campus, including in a quonset hut, the graduate-level curriculum had grown to include master’s degrees in music, music education, special education/hearing impairment, counseling psychology, school counseling, school psychology, and public administration. Each operated semi-autonomously; there was little in the way of shared identity. During a college-wide mission study in 1983, Jones chaired a committee reviewing graduate programs. The committee recommended that teacher education and graduate programs be consolidated into a graduate school. In 1984, the recommendation to create a single administrative home for the disparate programs was approved by the Board of Trustees, and the Graduate School of Professional Studies was born.
Since then, Jones has served in almost every leadership capacity at the graduate school, including as associate dean for administration and finance (2006-2008), chair of education programs (1980-1982, 2003-2011), director of the doctoral program (2009), and director of special education programs (1996-2006).
Advancing the field of teacher preparation
Over four decades, Jones has been deeply involved in efforts to keep graduate teacher education programs on the cutting edge. In 1985, Lewis & Clark was the only liberal arts college in the nation (one of only 11 colleges total), to receive a three-year grant from the U.S. Office of Educational Research and Improvement to review best practices for preparing new teachers. Jones wrote the grant and co-chaired the committee overseeing it. The research that resulted helped to establish the five-year, master’s level teacher education program that is still the foundation of teacher preparation at Lewis & Clark.
In 1995 a group of teachers from around the region met with Jones to request that Lewis & Clark consider developing a program of specialized training for special educators. Working with them, Jones created the special education endorsement program and M.Ed in Special Education, and directed the programs from their inception until 2006.
In 1991 he was honored with the Burlington Northern Faculty Achievement Award for outstanding teaching. Jones’ work has also been recognized through numerous scholarly invitations, including to serve as a scholar-in-residence at Western Michigan University and as a distinguished scholar at the University of California, Riverside. He has delivered invited lectures and keynote speeches across the country.
Off to a running start
As a young man searching for a college in 1964, Jones was himself a student, athlete, and leader. He turned down a football scholarship at Stanford for a Lewis & Clark track and field scholarship from the legendary coach Eldon Fix. Under Fix, Jones’ team won numerous conference and district championships. Jones, an All-American in 1967, was inducted into the Lewis & Clark College Hall of Fame as an individual athlete, member of a Hall of Fame team, and coach of a Hall of Fame team. “Eldon became my father surrogate and the track team became my brothers,” he said. “The most consistently positive memories of my undergraduate years were my four years in the track program.”
Off the track, Jones, a self-described nerd, spent the rest of his time studying. He majored in sociology, minored in English, and took psychology classes. After graduating, he attended a counseling psychology doctoral program at the University of Texas at Austin on scholarship.
A Pioneer in two fields
Jones returned to Oregon in 1971 to supervise a grant-funded program at Parkrose Middle School for students with emotional and behavior disorders. At first, the project’s leaders focused on changing student behavior using external rewards, setting up candy machines, beepers, and tallies to reinforce behavior. But knowing students could achieve more by focusing on internal motivation, Jones had students monitor their own progress and collaborate with peers. “We said these kids have to be involved in setting goals, talking about their own accountability, and advocating for themselves,” Jones said, “this has to be a community where we’re connected.”
Jones’s research into behavioral disorders dovetailed with his pioneering work in classroom management. When Jones was in school, professors taught that classroom management meant “don’t grin until Thanksgiving; don’t smile until Christmas,” and schools placed a heavy emphasis on punishment. Jones was one of the first researchers to look for a new approach, and his work has redefined the field.
“Classroom management is first and foremost about building positive relationships in classrooms,” Jones said. “It’s about helping students understand how to behave in a way that creates a safe and supportive learning environment, while engaging students in meaningful academic work and viewing discipline problems as areas where students may need help in developing new skills.”
Based on his work in Parkrose and consultation with school districts around the country, in 1980 Jones wrote his first book: Adolescents with Behavior Problems: Strategies for Teaching, Counseling, and Parent Involvement. He followed that achievement with a number of seminal books on the subject, including Responsible Classroom Discipline (1981), Comprehensive Classroom Management (1986), currently in its 11th edition, and Practical Classroom Management (2011), now in its 2nd edition. He also published two additional books behavior disorders: Creating Effective Programs for Students with Emotional and Behavior Disorders (2004) and Prevention and Intervention for Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: A Continuum of Services (in press).
Even while absorbed in his writing, Jones remained connected to the real world of schools. In the early 1980s, he took a year away from the college to serve as a vice principal at a junior high school in Beaverton. In 1998, he took a two-year leave from the college to serve as director of students with behavior disorders for the Vancouver Public School District in Washington. Alongside those positions, he consulted with over 100 schools and school districts in over 20 states.
Putting students first
Despite a schedule packed with prolific scholarly work and consulting gigs, Jones never missed a class. In his courses, students learned to pose questions, debate issues, reflect on readings, and explore the real world of education through fieldwork.
Despite his expertise, he asked students not to call him “doctor.” There are too many things he insists he still doesn’t know. Jones’s work has brought the college national recognition, but to him, that achievement crosses the line in third place. “I really believe in supporting each other,” he said. “The students and faculty come first and second by a mile.”