San Diego Unified superintendent prepared for a school year of 'belonging and equity'
Students in the San Diego Unified District go back to school Monday.
The fall semester marks the beginning of the first full year as superintendent for Lamont Jackson, Ph.D. In an interview with KPBS, Jackson spoke about his plans for California’s second-largest school district.
“This year will be about belonging, it will be about equity and it will be about our children and staff thriving,” Jackson said. “So that we can become what we set out to do and that’s to become the best school system across the nation.”
San Diego Unified faces hurdles toward that goal including the continuing COVID-19 crisis.
“We have recently moved away from a districtwide mask mandate to focus on what’s happening at our schools. We realized a lot of data is able to be captured at our school sites,” Jackson said.
The district’s strategy accounts for fluctuating COVID-19 cases and is based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the San Diego County Department of Health and Human Services.
So students will begin classes Monday with no requirement to wear masks but individual schools could reinstate masks or take other COVID-19 precautions based on a localized outbreak of cases.
According to the district’s website, Responsive Lab Partners medical professionals will be at all San Diego Unified schools to conduct COVID-19 testing for students and staff, free of charge.
Then there is the threat of the monkeypox virus. School health officials are closely monitoring the local outbreak with consideration for special precautions for students in athletics.
Jackson said prevention strategies include keeping wrestling mats clean, "because we know this is something transmitted through close contact and the sharing of towels and materials like that.”
There is also the matter of the new California late-start law now requiring middle schools to begin at 8 a.m. or later and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The district has a school year's worth of data on the impact of starting later from a pilot program started in 2021.
“We’ve learned a great deal from transportation to what this meant for our parents who have multiple drop-off points when they have multiple children in the family, I think we’re poised. The pilot year gave our leaders time to talk to the community,” Jackson said.
He said the district is poised to provide support for students before and after school as families adjust their routines.
Jackson, who has been with the district for more than 30 years, has worked as a teacher and coach, a principal, human resources director. Before becoming superintendent in March he oversaw schools in clusters for the Clairemont, Mira Mesa, Morse and University City Learning Communities. He is also a product of San Diego Unified completing 12 years of his education in district schools.
And he is a father.
Jackson shared a personal story of growth about dropping his son off at Long Beach State to begin college this fall to pursue a college scholarship in opera.
“It was all him who said he was interested in pursuing choir and he was moving away from athletics — which is probably what I was pushing him into doing. If there’s a message for parents, we need to get out of the way of our students and let them find their voice," Jackson said choking up. "Because magic will happen."
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