Kentwood — As a secretary in the early 1990s at Kenosha Elementary in Grand Rapids Public Schools, Jamie Gordon received encouragement from female education leaders who told her to pursue a degree to become an administrator.
Taking that advice — one of the first of many steps in her career in education — has led to years in leadership and multi-pronged efforts to support others interested in the teaching profession.
“I had great role models and great mentors; I don’t think I can stress that enough,” said Gordon, now the executive director of human resources for Kentwood Public Schools. “I hope that 10 years from now there are a couple kids somewhere sitting in a position like this, saying ‘I remember when Mrs. Gordon helped me or talked to me’ … that’s when I will know I did a good job.”
Gordon is one of 12 Black leaders being honored by Grand Rapids Community College with a GIANT Award on Saturday, Feb. 3, during the 2024 GIANT Awards Ceremony at DeVos Place. Her father, Jimmy Carter, assistant East Kentwood High School girls basketball coach from 2007 through 2011 and head coach in 2018, is also being honored this year.
‘What are those true characteristics that we need, and how do we make sure that those people are the people that are getting to the table for us to consider to be part of our team?’— Jamie Gordon, executive director of human resources
GIANT Awards recognize members of the African American community for their exceptional contributions, going above and beyond to shape the history, culture and quality of life in Grand Rapids, according to information from GRCC.
Gordon will receive the Phyllis Scott Activist Award for exemplifying a strong commitment to promoting and improving the lives of youth.
“Jamie embodies excellence, equity, and inclusion in both her professional and personal life,” said Veronica Lake, executive director of student services for Kentwood Public Schools. “Her unwavering commitment to assembling a team of high-quality, diverse personnel in our schools mirrors her dedication to creating an enriching environment that not only fosters student growth and development but also celebrates and leverages the strengths inherent in diversity.”
An Increasingly Diverse Staff
Gordon, who began her current role in 2018, taps many sources to bring talented educators to KPS and keep them there. She has helped create opportunities both for high school students interested in teaching and for existing staff members; she has also created partnerships with colleges and universities.
Kentwood’s 1,800-member staff has increased in diversity to about 25%, an increase from 17% since 2019. About 42% of the administrative team district-wide is now made up of people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds. About 15% of teachers are people of color, up from 9%, and support staff is up to 31%, compared to 23%.
The increase in staff diversity is a result of intentional efforts to keep crucial questions at the forefront of hiring in the most diverse school district in Michigan, Gordon said.
“What is the great educator that we want, Black, white, green or purple?” she asked. “What are those true characteristics that we need, and how do we make sure that those people are the people that are getting to the table for us to consider to be part of our team?”
A 1983 graduate of the former Creston High School in Grand Rapids Public Schools, Gordon comes from a family of educators. Her sisters are educators, including Crestwood Middle School Principal Jacquie Harris. Her daughter teaches at Crestwood as well.
Gordon began her career as a nursing medical assistant, a job she stepped away from when she and her husband had children. She then worked as school secretary at Kenosha.
She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in business management from Cornerstone University and a master’s in educational leadership from Grand Valley State University. Gordon worked in GRPS for 23 years in human resources and as the director of the Office of Extended Learning. She learned to write curriculum and align after-school programming with the school day.
She started as an assistant principal at East Kentwood High School in 2013, which she said was some of the “most rewarding work she’s done” in terms of improving systems to serve all students by working with a team before moving over to the central office in human resources.
Growing their Own
A teacher shortage remains a nationwide challenge, and Gordon continues to look forward to more recruitment and retention efforts. She said she’s excited to see regional and statewide “grow-your-own” incentives and programs, such as Teach Michigan and West Michigan Teacher Collaborative, which KPS is participating in.
Kentwood, however, has worked hard on building its own pipeline of teachers for years in a variety of ways. That includes the high school elective course, Educators Rising, for students interested in teaching. (Students can receive Michigan State University credits for the course.)
“Several years ago I came to Jamie Gordon with an idea about creating a Grow Your Own Teacher program in Kentwood,” said Luke Wilcox, East Kentwood High School math teacher and 2018 Michigan Teacher of the Year. “Jamie immediately went into action to create the Educators Rising class at the high school. The hope is that by supporting a diverse group of students who were interested in the teaching profession that they would later come back to Kentwood to teach — increasing the diversity of our teachers in Kentwood.”
Gordon has also helped develop partnerships with Davenport, Grand Valley State University, Western Michigan University and historically Black colleges and universities. She has also worked with colleges and universities to examine their colleges of education and prep programs to see if they align with district hiring goals.
KPS also brings in many student teachers and often hires Kentwood graduates to teach in the district.
“This has been stuff we’ve been doing here for a long time,” Gordon said of their efforts. “We’ve just tried to figure out how to do it with the limited resources that we have, not only to build our pipeline but to make sure it’s reflective of the population we serve.”