San Diego Unified’s preference for homegrown leaders has bucked national trends in education in recent decades. Many large urban districts have hired big-name education leaders from other parts of the country or big-name business leaders with no classroom experience.
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Lamont Jackson, a former San Diego Unified student and longtime district educator, has been selected as San Diego Unified School District’s new superintendent.
The choice highlights school board members’ preference for hiring classroom educators with grassroots connections to the city. Like Jackson, San Diego Unified’s last superintendent, Cindy Marten, had also been a principal in the district. She stayed in the role for almost 8 years, before becoming deputy secretary for the US Department of Education.
San Diego Unified’s preference for homegrown leaders has bucked national trends in education in recent decades. Many large urban districts have hired big-name education leaders from other parts of the country or big-name business leaders with no classroom experience. Los Angeles Unified, for instance, recently hired the superintendent of Miami public schools, Alberto Carvalho.
San Diego Unified’s board members, meanwhile, have shown a preference for people who already understand the district’s challenges and have pre-existing relationships within the community.
Their bet on Marten paid off, judging by her job promotion. But judging by academic indicators, Marten’s record was mixed.
Board members already have a very specific task in mind for Jackson that will be interesting to watch in the coming years. They want him to focus on communication and community building among the district’s stakeholders, said Richard Barrera, the district’s longest-serving board member.
That focus is especially interesting, since the district has been more heavily criticized for its lack of communication than perhaps any other topic. Parents, union leaders and principals have all complained that decisions come down without warning and without prior stakeholder engagement. A prime example was last November when the district made a last-minute announcement that it would cancel classes in order to give people a mental health day.
The decision caused widespread strife and the district was forced to walk back its decision to cancel classes. Jackson, who was serving as interim superintendent, was at the helm for the entire debacle.
Each of the two previous superintendents hired under Barrera also had a very specific task, he said. Bill Kowba was brought into the district to handle a financial crisis. Marten was there to put a comprehensive instructional plan in place. Improving the district’s communication and helping bring community members into the conversation will fall to Jackson.
Jackson attended Clairemont High and later returned there as an assistant teacher and basketball coach, the Union-Tribune reported. He went on to serve as principal at three different schools and then as an area superintendent.
Despite academic progress by some benchmarks, students of different income levels and different races still suffer from widespread disparities in academic achievement. Jackson, who is Black, pledged to narrow the gap.
“We will continue to pursue the idea of closing the achievement gap by creating a system that is anti-bias and anti-racist,” he said.
Jakob McWhinney contributed reporting to this story.