It took Timisha Barnes-Jones 22 years to make the 20-mile trip back to her alma mater – but ultimately, she was glad she did.
A music major, Barnes-Jones followed her dream after graduating in 1992 and embarked on a career in vocal performance. She earned a full scholarship to attend the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, completed two years there, then moved to Bermuda and began singing professionally. She became an acclaimed jazz vocalist, and appeared at some of the top clubs and performance halls in the Western hemisphere. In 1995, she won two first place awards in the nationally televised "Showtime at the Apollo" show.
She had assumed singing would be her career. But the professional experience led her to the realization that her deepest satisfaction came not from employing her own voice, but in teaching others how to employ theirs.
Barnes-Jones moved back to Charlotte in 1996 and opened a voice studio to help train individual students and choirs. That led her to employment as a music teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) beginning in 1999. She taught chorus at four CMS schools, and found herself being drawn into the broader responsibilities of school administration. She completed a master's degree in education, worked in administration at Waddell High and Vance High, and was promoted to West Charlotte High as assistant principal in 2012. Just a year later she was appointed to her current position as co-principal of West Charlotte and director of its Project LIFT Academy.
But she didn't leave her love of music behind. "Yes, they call me the singing principal," Barnes-Jones admitted. "I sing in the hallways, sing during the announcements, and every other chance I get. And the students will often sing along with me. Music connects people in such a powerful way. It's useful in getting them to talk about school issues and their lives."
That ability to connect with students is particularly crucial in her work at Project LIFT Academy. LIFT is a non-profit public/private partnership that works with select CMS schools to transform the way students who perform poorly in school are educated. It uses a blended learning platform, combining computerized lessons and personal instruction. It also targets older students and offers night and weekend school for students who work or care for family during the day. The program also concerns itself with students who have earned out-of-school suspensions, keeping them on campus but away from classmates.
"What we're doing," Barnes-Jones said. "Is doing high school differently. We understand one size does not fit all."
That different way of approaching instruction through innovative strategies for at-risk high school students was the subject of Barnes-Jones' dissertation for the doctorate in education she recently received from Gardner Webb University.
She also has recently created the non-profit "Three Pillars Educational Foundation" to help public and private schools use blended learning to ensure student success. She explained, "The three pillars are academic achievement, social and emotional support, and college and career preparedness. You need all three to be successful in life."
Barnes-Jones grew up in Kannapolis, and began taking voice and piano lessons at a very young age. She decided to apply to Davidson because it was close to home, she liked the idea of liberal arts, and because everyone said she would never get in. "It became a quest," she recalled.
She succeeded in her quest, and felt supported and appreciated in the music program here. In addition to broadening her knowledge and practice of music, she was "adopted" by the prominent local musicians Henny and Leo Driehuys. Leo was conductor of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, and Barnes-Jones took voice lessons from Henny.
Despite her warm feelings for Davidson and regular correspondence with close classmates, she hadn't been back to campus since 1992, until Music Prof. Bill Lawing invited her to visit. She spent a full day on campus, catching up on the facilities and people.
She was pleased to see a much more diverse student body and impressed by the Duke Family Performance Hall and other new buildings. She talked with civic engagement staff about volunteer opportunities for Davidson students at West Charlotte, and with Dean of Students' staff about the state of the college's efforts to welcome and support students, and ended her visit with a short recital for members of the music department in Tyler-Tallman Hall.
Barnes-Jones departed with a renewed feeling of alumni pride, and pledged to get more involved with her alma mater in the future. "It's not like I never thought of it," she said. "I have a ‘Davidson' sticker on the door of my office. I've always felt Davidson is a big part of who I am."