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Dionne Tunstall Jenkins – Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools  

Visionary leader shapes legal framework for academic success 

Dionne Tunstall Jenkins, the general counsel at Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools, stands at the forefront of ensuring a conducive educational environment by navigating legal complexities. With a distinguished background in law and a deep-rooted commitment to education, Jenkins’s tenure spans over a decade, marked by significant contributions to the district’s legal framework and leadership development initiatives. 

Dionne Tunstall Jenkins | General Counsel | Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools  

Dionne Tunstall Jenkins | General Counsel | Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools

Amidst the intricate landscape of educational governance, Jenkins champions projects aimed at fortifying WS/FCS’s legal infrastructure and fostering leadership excellence across the district. Celebrating her 10th anniversary with WS/FCS, Jenkins’s focus remains steadfast on pivotal projects and ensuring that students and teachers have every opportunity to succeed.  

“My goal is to ensure a safe and supportive educational environment. I’m focused on strengthening our legal framework and developing leaders across the district,” Jenkins says. 

Educational empowerment 

Jenkins underscores the invaluable benefit of having in-house counsel within the education sector, especially in a district as expansive as WS/FCS. With her eye for preventative legal measures, Jenkins says mitigating potential litigation risks before they escalate is crucial. In a landscape where teachers’ time is best spent on educating students rather than navigating legal complexities, Jenkins’s role ensures a proactive approach to legal matters, safeguarding the district’s interests while fostering a conducive learning environment. 

Dionne Tunstall Jenkins | General Counsel | Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools  

Recognizing the pivotal role of effective leadership in organizational success, Jenkins spearheads initiatives focused on nurturing leadership talent across WS/FCS. Through targeted workshops and professional development programs, Jenkins ensures senior and mid-level leaders receive the necessary training to steer the district toward excellence. Moreover, Jenkins’s emphasis on inclusivity extends to administrative support staff, underscoring the importance of empowering all school community members to contribute to its success. 

Driven by her passion for legal education and a desire to serve a broader educational community, Jenkins has ventured into consulting to provide invaluable legal guidance to school districts lacking in-house counsel. With her wealth of experience and expertise in navigating complex legal landscapes, Jenkins’s consulting efforts support educational institutions seeking to navigate legal intricacies effectively. 

Jenkins’s visionary leadership is defined by her unwavering commitment to legal excellence and educational empowerment. Through her transformative projects, Jenkins ensures that WS/FCS remains at the forefront of educational innovation while prioritizing the holistic development of its students and staff. 

Ensuring safety and collaboration 

With 81 schools under WS/FCS’s purview, communication is key, and Jenkins ensures regular interaction while being available on an as-needed basis for specific concerns. From planned meetings with principals to the annual Summer Leadership Institute, Jenkins fosters a culture of collaboration and continuous learning within the district. 

“Discipline and special education are among the primary focus areas for my team and me,” she says. “As special education needs become increasingly complex and litigious, we recognize the importance of having dedicated legal support in this area.”  

Training on fundamental topics like school law, confidentiality regulations and Title IX is conducted regularly to empower school administrators and staff. 

The safety and security of students are paramount, particularly in light of recent events, including the targeted school shooting at Mount Tabor High School in September 2021 that left one student dead.  

Jenkins has spearheaded initiatives to enhance security measures, including using metal detectors and clear bag policies at school events. Additionally, she oversees the ongoing review and update of the district’s policy manual to ensure alignment with current laws and standards. 

“You have to find the balance between keeping students and staff safe while also fostering an environment that is welcoming and conducive to learning,” Jenkins says.  

In addition to these important focus areas, Jenkins also addresses artificial intelligence’s potential pros and cons in education. She says she approaches its implementation cautiously, mindful of potential ethical implications. Nonetheless, the district conducts training sessions with teachers to ethically integrate AI into classrooms, maximizing its benefits while minimizing concerns such as plagiarism. 

Always education 

Jenkins traces her passion for law back to her formative years, where her interest was sparked by a deep-rooted desire to help and advocate for others. With a bachelor’s degree in political science from Wake Forest University, Jenkins continued her academic journey at Wake Forest University School of Law, driven by her innate curiosity about the legal field and a fervent commitment to effecting positive change. 

“I knew I wanted to be a lawyer from an early age,” she recalls.  

Her upbringing instilled a sense of duty to serve her community and advocate for those in need. She recognized the power of the law as a tool for empowerment and social justice, fueling her determination to pursue a career in law. 

After completing her legal education, Jenkins embarked on a multifaceted legal career encompassing various roles, including founding her own practice specializing in criminal defense and family law. Although her solo practice provided invaluable experience, Jenkins yearned for a professional path aligned more closely with her passion for education and advocacy. 

In July 2013, Jenkins’s journey led her to join the district as a staff attorney, marking the beginning of her dedicated service to the educational community. Her exceptional legal skills and unwavering commitment to equity and justice quickly distinguished her as a standout professional. In January 2016, Jenkins’s journey culminated in her appointment as general counsel, a role she embraced enthusiastically and purposefully. 

As the first person of color to assume the attorney role in the district, Jenkins’s appointment represented a significant milestone in her career and the ongoing pursuit of diversity and inclusion within the legal profession.  

Since then, she has dedicated herself to mentorship, community engagement, and advocacy, inspiring future generations of legal professionals to pursue their aspirations and make a meaningful impact in their communities. 

“Sure, the Board of Education is my client and protecting its interests is paramount to my role, but for everyone who works in our district, students are at the heart of everything we do,” Jenkins says. “I take pride in the impact my work has on students.” 

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring IV 2024 Edition here.

Published on: May 17, 2024

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