Darton State College interim president Dr. Paul Jones has enjoyed his brief time in southwest Georgia and is looking forward to serving the college and the community for as long as he's called to do so. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — It would be easy for an interim in any situation to simply man the post until a permanent replacement is named. Dr. Paul Jones feels a bit differently. He says he’ll act as though the interim part doesn’t exist in his title and do everything in his power to help Darton State College grow.
“I’m not at all concerned about the interim part of the title,” Jones said. “I’m fully engaged and fully committed.”
It’s likely it was that kind of attitude that lead leaders of the University System of Georgia to name Jones as the interim president of Darton this fall after Peter Sireno resigned the post after 25 years.
Although Jones has only been on the job for roughly six weeks, he say he already feels like a part of both the Darton and Albany communities; something that surprised him at first.
“I did not know quite what to expect,” Jones said. “I knew about a couple of the challenges that may exist, but I think from the very first day, I was embraced, I think, in a way, only southwest Georgia can do. I have been incredibly surprised by the way in which people welcome others into this community.”
It is that welcoming attitude and caring spirit that Jones feels is Darton’s greatest strength.
“It’s pretty simple,” Jones said. “It may not be what brought me here, but it’s what has allowed me to embrace this community even more—it’s the people. That’s what makes it special. That’s not to say that other places are not special in that way or have good people, but what I think is, when I say people here, it’s the way in which they genuinely care about one another. They care about each other, they care about the students and you can sense that pretty quickly.”
Jones continued by explaining that while that caring spirit has enabled the school to grow, that growth has also created the school’s biggest challenge. According to Jones, as Darton has grown it’s enrollment over the past few years, certain challenges have arisen in regard to infrastructure and graduation rates. In Jones’ opinion, now is the time for the school to begin strategically planning how to properly sustain that growth to the benefit of the school and the community.
“I think that it’s no surprise that this campus has had significant growth,” said Jones. “That growth has enabled us to do some incredible things here. I take my hat off to the former president and what he’s been able to create here. This growth has been great on one hand, but I think the challenge that we find on this campus is that we haven’t been able to keep up with that growth. The growth has been such that I think that maybe we need to reflect on how we can ensure that we’re strengthening the infrastructure to ensure that we continue to move forward in extraordinary ways. We need to grow. We need to grow strategically. But more importantly we need to ensure that any student that walks through this door has an opportunity to be successful. So it’s not about growing necessarily through new students but growing through retention and graduation.”
Jones says he is prepared to work diligently to begin planning and prioritizing for the future. Jones said that while he isn’t certain how long he’ll be asked to serve as interim, he is certain of what needs to be done.
“As I’ve told people, we’re all interim anyway because we serve at the leisure of the Board of Regents,” he said. “So, again, I’m not overly concerned about that part. I’m here to really help this campus move forward and however I can do that, I’m committed to doing that. That’s the bottom line. We need to begin the conversations. We need to look at prioritization. I have to be careful there because of my time line, or the unknown time line. But yet this campus needs to start having these conversations. And I think this is a great time for this campus to start having some of those conversations.”
In addition to sustainable growth, Jones also feels another challenge that needs to be addressed is the school’s overall involvement in the community. According to Jones, upon arriving in Albany he immediately felt that the community wanted more involvement.
“As I told the campus, ‘we need to play in the sandbox with others,’” Jones said. “I’m excited about that. I think the community is hungry for that. As I’ve gone into the community, they’re excited about that. They want us to be more engaged, they want our students to be more engaged in the community, our faculty and staff and certainly I think they want me to be more engaged. So I’m excited about that part of it.”
Regardless of the many challenges, Jones feels he’s is exactly where he needs to be and is prepared to do perform any task needed to better the school. Jones said throughout his career he has served in a multitude of positions within higher education and feels that his skill set is the main reason he was chosen as the interim president.
“I think my career and what I’ve been doing has uniquely prepared me for this role,” said Jones. “I have served in just about every role or area of higher education, from student affairs, to academic affairs to fiscal affairs and to running the central office of the president as chief of staff or vice president. I think that perhaps may be the part of the reason why I was called upon to come here.”
Currently there is no timetable on how long it will take to find a permanent president for Darton. Jones’ current agreement is for one year, but he said that may end up being shorter or longer, depending upon the Board of Regents. In the meantime, Jones says he will continue to allow his higher power to guide him and embrace whatever challenges emerge.
“I’m going to leave it up to Him to continue to guide me,” said Jones. “The Lord took me to Utah, he took me to Maryland and I said, ‘Lord it doesn’t really matter. You know what’s right for me.’ I would have never planned that by myself; I’m not capable. And so I’m going to stick to that plan cause it just seems to work out well. We’ll see what happens. But I’m going to do the best possible job that I can, while I can. Go Cavaliers!”