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San Diego Unified chooses longtime district educator as its new superintendent

Lamont Jackson, a San Diego Unified alumnus and educator known for his personable nature and long track record with the district, was chosen as San Diego Unified’s new permanent superintendent, the school board announced Monday afternoon.

The board picked Jackson, who has been serving as the district’s interim superintendent since last May, after conducting a superintendent search that spanned more than a year.

Jackson, 52, will lead California’s second-largest school district of 95,000 students, 15,000 employees, more than 170 schools and a $1.7 billion budget.

Many major challenges await Jackson, including developing game plans for closing achievement gaps and ensuring equity for disadvantaged students, helping students recover from the academic and mental health toll of the pandemic, implementing the district’s student COVID-19 vaccine mandate next school year and adjusting to declining enrollment which was accelerated by COVID.

Jackson was chosen from an undisclosed number of people who applied for the superintendent position. The only other superintendent finalist was Susan Enfield, an award-winning superintendent from a Seattle-area school district about one-fifth the size of San Diego Unified.

The choice of Jackson, a district insider, matches with the school board’s prior pattern in that its last superintendent, Cindy Marten, had worked in San Diego Unified for 10 years as a principal and 17 years as a teacher before the board appointed her in 2013 .

In May last year she left the district to become deputy US education secretary in the Biden administration.

Jackson grew up in and attended San Diego Unified schools in the Clairemont cluster: Longfellow Elementary, Marston Middle and then Clairemont High. Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and social sciences from San Diego State University and a master’s and doctorate in educational leadership from the University of San Diego.

He was recruited to become a teacher through a previous district program that aimed to diversify the teaching workforce.

Jackson started as a teaching assistant and head women’s basketball coach at Clairemont High, where he helped create a program to support historically disadvantaged students. He later became a teacher, then served as principal at three schools: Montgomery, Challenger and Wangenheim middle schools.

He became a human resources administrator, then human resources officer from 2010 to 2013, as the district dealt with hundreds of layoffs to address budget deficits.

Afterward he served as an area superintendent, overseeing mostly elementary and middle schools in the Morse, Mira Mesa, Clairemont and University City high school clusters. Jackson was credited at the time with helping develop the district’s new teacher evaluation method, which was meant to focus on improvement rather than punishing teachers for poor performance.

Principals have said Jackson is charismatic, unafraid to show emotional vulnerability, and caring about students and staff. He remembers details about people’s lives, makes jokes, visits schools often, and has cried with fellow employees when having deep conversations, colleagues said.

Jackson, who has openly shared his experiences as a Black man, often says the district “needs to be unapologetic” about equity and serving the district’s most marginalized students, particularly Black and Latino students, students with disabilities, and students who are learning English as a second language.

“When we can get it right for our students… who have been marginalized for far too long… then we can say that we are about equity,” he said in January. “But until then, it’s just talk. And we have to stay committed and be unapologetic about that.”

His ideas to improve the district include using a “grow-your-own” program to help district students become teachers, eliminating barriers such as course prerequisites that are preventing disadvantaged students from taking advanced or rigorous courses, and raising teacher pay.

Jackson also has said he will accelerate the district’s efforts to reform its grading practices, grow the district’s transitional kindergarten programs, and expand anti-bias and anti-racism training to more staff.