Tuesday, February 22, 2005 | Newly elected San Diego Unified School District trustee Shelia Jackson defied the odds and won her seat despite an endorsement of her opponent by the teachers’ union. A teacher herself, Jackson taught 4th and 5th grades in San Diego City Schools for eight years before being elected to her first term on the school board this past November.
Although many people were puzzled by the union’s lack of support for her, Jackson said she was not surprised because she has been willing to question and disagree with the union position periodically over the years.
Jackson, who believes it’s important to stay true to yourself, uses this experience as a teachable moment. “I try to remind people to do the right thing,” she said. “People need to ask questions and not blindly follow.”
As a new trustee, she is focusing on several areas including:
Obtaining annual, state-mandated test scores sooner so teachers can help students in their weak subjects before they are promoted to the next grade.
Parent communication and outreach. “Parents are not aware of how much power they have at their school sites,” she said.
Generating more publicity for successful schools and programs.
Jackson, 48, represents Sub-District E, located in the southeastern corner of the district – south of I-8 and east of I-15. High schools in this district include Crawford Complex, Morse, and Lincoln, which is closed currently for reconstruction. Additionally, there are five middle schools, including Gompers and Keiller, and 33 elementary schools.
Jackson says Sub-District E has a balanced mix of ethnicities, with Asians, Filipinos, and African-Americans each representing about 20 to 25 percent of the total student population. African-American herself, she is proud of the diversity of both her district and the new school board. “This is one of the most diverse boards in the country,” she said.
Jackson was born and raised in North Carolina and served for 21 years in the U.S. Navy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in health science from George Washington University, her teaching credential from Cal State San Marcos, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from National University. She is not married (“I’m eligible,” she said with a laugh), and has a 17-year-old daughter who attends high school in the district.
Over the last five years, Jackson said the district has provided a strong foundation in reading and math. “We have made tremendous gains,” she said, citing district superintendent Alan Bersin’s controversial academic improvement plan- the Blueprint for Student Success.
However, according to Jackson, these gains have come at a price. “As a classroom teacher, I had concerns about the Blueprint,” she said. “We were given services instead of funds, and that was of great concern to me.”
In particular, she objected to what she called the “one size fits all” approach for change district-wide and said Bersin did not treat teachers as professionals. Jackson also said that many felt Bersin used a “top-down dictatorship approach” when he was hired as superintendent six years ago because he fired some employees and generated feelings of intimidation that served to silence many critics who were fearful of retaliation.
Jackson said parents and teachers are still worried about retribution. “But a cloud has lifted over the district, and everyone is now included at the table,” she said, calling this a new beginning for the district, with fresh, new ideas.
Jackson, who voted with the majority (in a 4-0 vote) to terminate Bersin’s employment one year early, said the superintendent has shown that he is willing to work with the new board for the remaining months of his contract, and everyone is trying to move forward and begin anew.
Jackson believes that no child is expendable, and that there is a strong parent component in successful public education. “We need to strengthen our public schools and give them all the resources they are entitled to,” she said. “Public schools are what make our country great.”