Friday, October 30, 2015

Hendrix education department chair James Jennings dies at 60

Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2015 at 5:04 PM

click to enlarge JAMES JENNINGS: Education professor influenced generations of students at Hendrix. - HENDRIX COLLEGE
  • HENDRIX COLLEGE
  • JAMES JENNINGS: Education professor influenced generations of students at Hendrix.

Folks at Hendrix College notified me today that James M. Jennings, the chair of the school's education department, died on Tuesday. He was 60.

Jennings was a beloved figure at the college, where he had taught since 1992. (I never took a class with Dr. Jennings myself, but I can think of a dozen classmates who considered him a friend and mentor.)

Jennings was a native of Little Rock. Before joining the Hendrix faculty, he worked for 15 years in the Little Rock School District, first as a social studies teacher at Horace Mann and later as the district's associate superintendent for desegregation. He received his doctorate from Vanderbilt University in 1992.

Hendrix has a statement including quotes from three of Jennings' former students, among them education professor Dionne Jackson, who co-chairs the Civic Advisory Committee for the LRSD:

Dr. Jennings designed the Above the Line Project in 2007 to work with elementary students who previously scored "below" or "below basic" on the Arkansas Benchmark Exam, a state-sponsored testing program designed to grade the educational aptitude of public school students. Following three weeks of intensive remedial studies led by Jennings and a team of Hendrix students, a majority of students improved their test scores in a number of subject areas.

Jennings was named a National PTA Fellow and received a $5,000 to research the student achievement and parent involvement/achievement gaps in American education. He was also a member of the Achievement Gap Committee for the Conway Public Schools.

“Dr. James Jennings was my professor, mentor, and colleague,” said Hendrix education professor Dr. Dionne Jackson ’96. "He was a man who lived out his faith in God daily as he served in the field of education to improve students’ educational opportunities, particularly in the Arkansas Delta, by developing and mentoring teachers prepared to meet their needs. His life’s work will go on for years through the numerous individuals he influenced.”

“Dr. Jennings was my first advisor, my best professor, and my career-long mentor,” said Amy Ruple Jordan ’95, assistant principal at Bob Courtway Middle School in Conway. Jordan is a longtime educator and previously served as a classroom teacher and literacy specialist. “I am shocked and saddened about his death. However, his influence on the field of education and the lives of thousands of students is immeasurable, and through that he will live on. He inspired me to be the very best teacher I could be, and I am forever indebted to him.”

“There are not enough words to express my sorrow and gratitude for someone who was more than just a professor but also a mentor,” said Kathryn Elise Armstrong ’14. “He was a listening ear when I struggled as a student and even after graduation as a first-year teacher. He gave me plenty of advice and opportunities to make me the teacher and the person I am today.”

“It's hard to say goodbye to someone who has helped shaped the person I've become,” Armstrong added. “He not only impacted my life and the lives of other Hendrix students, but he also strived to improve the educational system and the lives of countless students at various levels in the state of Arkansas. He sought close the achievement gap in Arkansas Delta as the founder of the Above the Line Project. He set the example for what an educator should be and how they should act. I am grateful for his commitment to education and to putting students first.”

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