Chief Academic Officer Judi Jones, who became an educator 38 years ago and joined the Cobb Schools staff in 1979, announced Monday that her last day with the district will be Nov. 16.
“It was the change with the state rules. It’s not the educational rules, but the financial,” she said Tuesday. “It makes a significant change in the retirement.”
The state Teacher Retirement System is eliminating a 3 percent benefit increase on the first $37,500 of retirement pay for educators retiring on or after Jan. 1, which amounts to losing more than $1,000 annually if they stay on past Dec. 31.
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Jones is one of about 75 employees the district has lost or is losing this year because of the change.
“It’s starting to take a toll on us,” he said. “She’s going to be hard to replace.”
Most recently, Chief Financial Officer Mike Addison retired on Sept. 30, and Hinojosa’s executive secretary, Mary Kay Fermanich, will retire at the end of November.
“The problem with us is that these people have to make a decision and do it now, even if they’re in the middle of a big project,” he said.
Jones recently helped wrap up the district’s revision of the Strategic Plan and Hinojosa’s superintendent evaluation.
“Luckily for us, we’re just about done with those, but there are a lot of things behind the scenes that she’s working on,” he said. “I call her ‘The Machine’ because she just cranks up the work like a machine. I’m going to miss her tremendously.”
He also said he hasn’t decided what to do about Jones’ position, which he created last year when he reorganized his executive cabinet, but he should have a plan in place by his next meeting with the school board, which is scheduled for Monday morning.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “I’m still considering several options. I was hoping she wouldn’t retire, but in the back of my mind, I knew she probably had to.”
Jones said she’s been considering retiring for the last couple of weeks, and while she isn’t sure what she’ll do with her spare time, she doesn’t plan on sitting around watching TV or reading books.
“There are so many things left undone right now that I want to see come to full circle, but sometimes you just have to make those difficult decisions,” she said.
The Cobb County native, who attended Fitzhugh Lee grammar school and graduated from Pebblebrook High School, started her career in education in the Atlanta Public and Bartow County school systems. She returned to Cobb after getting four years of experience.
“I came to Cobb County as a fourth-grade teacher at Fitzhugh Lee Elementary School,” Jones said.
She moved up teaching at Russell and Hollydale elementary schools before being named assistant principal at Fitzhugh Lee, eventually joining the district staff around 1993 as a consultant in the Research, Evaluation and Student Assessment Office.
“It was kind of similar to what I do now, but not as much work,” she said.
Jones decided to become a teacher while attending a Girl Scout camp as a child.
“I was a buddy to a blind student,” she said. “It was a camp specifically for blind kids, and they had sight buddies that worked with them. I remember then deciding to be a teacher (because) helping someone else was fun.”
After graduating from high school, she attended Georgia State University to earn a degree in teaching, furthered her education by earning a specialist degree from West Georgia College and State University and eventually a doctorate from the University of Georgia.
“I’m very passionate about kids,” she said. “Kids are our future, and whatever we can do to make them move into the right direction so that they have a positive future is what we need to do.”
Jones said her commitment to Cobb Schools kept her in education for nearly 40 years.
“I grew up here and am a product of the district and have seen it change over many, many years,” she said. “Every time we add schools and kids, it gets more exciting and it’s going to be really hard for me to leave. This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”