Shelia Jackson, president of the San Diego Unified school board, was feted by State Superintendent Jack O’Connell on Thursday night at an unusual State of the District address that decried the budget cuts imposed by the state and put the school board and its initiatives front and center.

Jackson said it was the first time that the school board had hosted such an event. Such speeches are more commonly made by superintendents, as Terry Grier did at an Administrators Association breakfast earlier this year. And with rumors flying that Jackson is eyeing a campaign for county supervisor, the event doubled as a political test for the school board president, who O’Connell called “the right person at the right time for this position” and “a committed, dedicated, passionate, energized advocate.”

“Rather than dwell on the problems, I want to dwell on our opportunities,” Jackson said. Her speech touched on efforts to make San Diego Unified a “smarter, healthier and a greener district” through classroom technology, dropout recovery efforts, solar energy and initiatives to get kids into the great outdoors.

Notable bits of the night included:

  • Some nifty new stuff: Mossy Automotive is donating two new cars that will be dangled before San Diego Unified seniors as an incentive to take tougher classes. All seniors who have taken — and passed — four or more Advanced Placement classes during their high school career will be eligible to win a car in a lottery. The program begins next year.
  • San Diego Gas & Electric is also working with the school district to give families who qualify for free and reduced price meals an automatic 20 percent discount on their energy bills. Jackson estimated that families would save as much as $4 million through the program.
  • Protesters of a planned labor agreement on the $2.1 billion bond for San Diego Unified schools walked out of the auditorium en masse before Jackson began speaking. Union backers of the agreement filled the time by clapping and cheering. “That’s OK,” Jackson said as they filed out. “We’ll go on with the show.”
  • A whole lot of hat-tipping. Jackson gave props to all five school board members for their individual initiatives, from John Lee Evans’ push for more flexibility in state funding to Katherine Nakamura’s crusade to save marching band. She also name-dropped managers within the school district who are trying to reform special education, infuse technology into schools, and make sense of its budgets, among others.

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