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Marietta announces resignation; Jones takes on new role at PMSS

Pine Mountain Settlement School has announced the resignation of Geoff Marietta after four years as executive director, and welcomes Preston Jones in the position of interim executive director.

Dr. Marietta is leaving his current position to become an “Entrepreneur in Residence” with an incubator program that will support entrepreneurship and small businesses in Appalachia with support from the James Graham Brown Foundation.

Dr. Marietta stated, “I believe this new position will be a great platform to better understand how we can draw resources to Harlan County and further grow Harlan’s downtown.”

He also emphasizes that he plans to continue work with the Harlan community and Pine Mountain Settlement School in his new role, and that his connection to Pine Mountain and the North Side community is “very personal and deep.”

During Marietta’s tenure, the school renewed its focus on serving as a local education facility and raising up local leaders, and many of his initiatives were done in partnership with his wife, Sky.

In addition to continuing and growing its well-renowned environmental education programs for school children from around the region, major efforts included launching an early childhood program; summer programs and meals for local children; internships on the farm for local youth; new community events; and a new gym, commercial kitchen, and café available to the public.

Marietta also took critical measures to preserve the historic buildings on the campus, which is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Especially notable under his leadership is the school’s current renovation of bathrooms in its West Wind dormitory, the largest capital improvement project in 76 years.

Marietta successfully secured a number of sizable grants throughout his tenure, and PMSS was also recognized with several awards under his direction, including the Ann Early Sutherland Excellence in Environmental Preservation in 2017, the Community Development Award from the Harlan Chamber in 2017, and the Douglas C. Griffin Environmental Sustainability Award from the Kentucky Pollution Prevention Center in 2018.

Combining the force of its rich history and folkways with new innovations and a deep commitment to education, Pine Mountain’s directors have opened the door to opportunity for many. Marietta has contributed solidly to this history, and Jones has lived it.

Deeply connected to the natural and cultural heritage of the region, Jones was born and raised in Harlan County. He comes to the position with solid experience already invested in Pine Mountain Settlement School. He holds a degree from the University of Kentucky in plant and soil sciences and is currently finishing the Master of Public Administration program at Eastern Kentucky University.

He moves to the position of interim director from his former position of assistant director, which he has filled since 2016. In this position, he worked closely with Dr. Marietta on many projects particularly those associated with agriculture.

Jones’ work with Grow Appalachia, a regional sustainable agriculture program, resulted in significant contributions to the development of programs at Pine Mountain Settlement School. He secured over $200,000 in grant funding to significantly expand the school’s community agriculture program, helping over 300 individuals in the community to grow more than 180,000 pounds of food. He also promoted and secured a major grant to start a “Community Kitchen” which has brought many workshops and innovative foodways to the School while stimulating the local economy and talent.

The campus kitchen program, under Jones’ leadership, was initiated to seek out more locally grown produce to serve in meals made on campus. This resulted in Pine Mountain investing over $10,000 in local growers over the past two years. The school’s farm also increased acreage under production by 300 percent, resulting in awards of three new high-tunnels from the USDA to extend the growing season.

He also secured $485,000 in funding through the UDSA-NRCS RCPP program to install 40 high tunnels in the region. It was also his responsibility to ensure that Pine Mountain Settlement School meets all regulatory requirements as a commercial restaurant, certified drinking water facility, KY State Nature Preserve and National Historic Landmark with over 800 acres and 26 buildings.

An energetic and productive innovator, Jones said of his new leadership role, “I am truly honored. Having grown up in Harlan County, I often wondered if there was a future for me here. My experience at Pine Mountain has reinforced what I always knew to be true, there is a future for Harlan County and the region, and that Pine Mountain is uniquely positioned to pave the way forward… I’m excited about the trajectory of the school and look forward to working with you all to carry out your remarkable mission.”

Marietta said he decided he would not leave his position as director until he was certain the people in place had the training and resources to continue to move the organization forward. He said of the staff, “I am excited to see where they take Pine Mountain next.”

Of his ongoing work with Pine Mountain Settlement School Jones says, “With an abiding love for my home region, I work every day to make our community a better place. “

The Pine Mountain Board of Trustees expresses its sincere gratitude to Marietta for his extraordinary service to the school over the past four years, and they wish him all the best in his new and exciting role in the region. They are also deeply grateful to Jones for his invaluable service to the school as assistant director and look forward to working with him in his new capacity as interim executive director. The Board of Pine Mountain will open a search this spring to identify the next leader of the school.

For more information, contact the school at 606-558-3571, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. General Inquiries can be made at office@pinemountainsettlementschool.com.