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#WhyIChoseEducation: ‘We’re Here To Support Schools That Have a Direct Impact on the Lives of Our Children,’ Says Orange County Schools Superintendent Danielle Jones ’12MSA, ’15EDD

Headshot of Danielle Jones with quote: "We're here to support schools that have a direct impact on the lives of our children."

Danielle Jones ’12MSA, ’15EDD, the superintendent of Orange County Schools, was majoring in business management at NC State when she started tutoring at an after-school program. 

After four years in the U.S. Air Force, Jones was in search of a new career, but she never expected to become an educator, not until she had the opportunity to spend time with those students.

“I really fell in love with the kids,” Jones said. 

She worked as a middle school mathematics teacher at Cedar Creek Middle School in Franklin County before deciding she wanted to make an impact at the administrative level. She returned to NC State to earn her Master of School Administration (MSA).

After earning her master’s degree, Jones served as an assistant principal at Cedar Creek and then principal at Bunn Middle School, also in Franklin County. In 2015, she earned her Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and went on to become a leadership coach and then assistant superintendent in Durham Public Schools before beginning her tenure as superintendent of Orange County Schools in February 2024. 

“I like the impact that I’m able to have, to create the right systems and structures to hold folks accountable for what we say we’re going to do,” Jones said. “I like seeing children grow. I like to see that light bulb come on. Even though I’m multiple steps away from that direct impact, I know that the work that we’re doing at the district level does have a direct impact on how schools impact our students.”

Since being named superintendent, Jones said her priority, in addition to ensuring that the district does not have any low-performing schools, is to create an environment in which the entire Orange County community is working together to support teachers. 

“Our teachers are the number one resource for our students and making sure that we’re meeting the needs of every child every day,” Jones said. “So, I hope to support and develop our leaders, our assistant principals, our principals and our district staff who help them to reach their full potential because we’re here to support schools that have a direct impact on the lives of our children.” 

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why I Chose Education: 

When I was tutoring in the after-school program, I just enjoyed it. The kids were great. They were eager to learn, and I found out I was naturally really good at math and breaking down the material so that kids could understand it. 

Working with the kids, I was able to really lock in and fully engage and really think through what I was able to provide as far as lessons and resources and experiences for them. That just kind of became my mission, to make sure every child feels valued, that they’re learning and growing and understand that they have opportunities to graduate high school and limitless opportunities after graduating high school.

How Education Shaped Me:

I would not be in my current position without understanding what education brings and the opportunities that you have afforded to you because you have an education. It’s opened a lot of doors for me. I’m constantly learning; you learn through formal education, and then you have mentors and you learn by mistakes that you make, so I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning.

Education has empowered me to be confident in the various roles that I’ve taken throughout my educational career, and to lead with a purpose, which is really to ensure that our students see the value of having an education and the opportunities that it brings. The more I educate myself, the more I’m able to lead with purpose.

What I Enjoyed Most About the College of Education:

The professors. They were very passionate about the topics that they taught. That really came through on a daily basis, well, moreso on a nightly basis since I would leave work and travel to the university to take courses. It was more than textbook education, more than just theory. They brought real-life experiences and best practices. 

What Others Should Know About the College of Education:

They’re dedicated to developing quality educators and to ensuring that not only are they prepared for the role, but that you understand the importance of the impact that you have on the community. In other roles that I’ve had, there have been many times where legal, human resources or curriculum issues have come up, and I can almost quote some of the professors in my mind as I’m thinking through the direction we need to go in. So, anyone who is thinking about education or educational leadership, I would definitely tell them to explore NC State if they want that practical lens. 

The Last Person Who Inspired Me:

I’m always going to say our students. We have wonderful students here in Orange County Schools. In my short time, I’ve been able to sit in on poetry readings — we have lots of talented writers — and I’ve attended a FIRST robotics competition and got to meet the kids as they were in the pits working on their robot. What [the students competing the robotics competition] talked to me about the most was the Impact Award, which is a community service project, where they find ways to support students that are within our district. It was inspiring just to hear them talk about that. That meant more to them than the competition. Then, we have some very highly competitive athletes and talented artists here. So every time I get to engage with our students, and hear from them, it just reminds me why I do what I do. 

I can just almost picture the future that’s so bright that’s ahead of them. I think that inspires me day to day. If I’m having a bad day, I’m going to a school, I need to talk to a kid, I need to know: What do you love about this class? What are your hopes for the future? And I’ve met some pretty great kids here in Orange County Schools.