Seattle-area school principal takes on longtime insider for San Diego superintendent

An award-winning superintendent of a suburban Seattle school district is competing with a longtime local district administrator for the leadership position of the San Diego Unified School District.

In a few weeks, the public will meet with Susan Enfield and Lamont Jackson, the only finalists selected by the school board to replace former Superintendent Cindy Marten, who left the district in May to become U.S. Under Secretary of Education. Several community forums are scheduled for January 10 for members of the public to ask questions of Enfield and Jackson.

Jackson, a regional superintendent, has been acting superintendent since May. Enfield is the superintendent of Highline Public Schools in Washington State.

Susan enfield

In an interview, Enfield said his mindset towards education was inspired by his family: his grandparents, whose families emigrated from Portugal, attached great importance to education even s ‘they did not have a thorough education themselves. Her grandfather never went to high school; her grandmother never went to college.

That’s why, says Enfield, she never makes assumptions about the importance a family places on their child’s education. Her family’s background also prompts her to focus on fairness, she said.

She finds the San Diego Unified position appealing, she said, as the district has stable leadership, including longtime board members. And she likes that the last superintendent stayed eight years; it allowed the district to do a good job, she said.

She also wishes to return to California for personal reasons; she has family and friends in San Diego.

Although Highline is one-fifth the size of San Diego Unified, Enfield said she had experience leading a large school district working in public schools in Seattle, Washington’s largest district with more than 50,000 students.

But, she said, the challenges Highline faces are the same ones that San Diego and many other districts face.

“Just because I know the many challenges and successes that the district has experienced on a smaller scale does not prevent me from being able to tackle them in the same way that I have done here,” she said.

Although Enfield has worked in the Pacific Northwest for over a decade, she is originally from California, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.

She taught high school English, journalism, and English as a second language in Northern California. About eight years after starting her teaching career, she enrolled in an urban superintendent program at Harvard University, then served as head of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, then Portland Public Schools and the United States. Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, Washington.

She became principal of studies and later acting superintendent of Seattle Public Schools from 2009 to 2012. Enfield said she refused to continue working as a permanent superintendent in Seattle because at the time the board had she gained new leadership and she thought it was better than this advice to find a new leader.

For the past nine years, Enfield has run Highline, a diverse neighborhood of about 18,000 students that surrounds Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, south of Seattle.

About 30 percent of students learn English, according to state data. Students speak 100 languages ​​and many are immigrants or refugees, Enfield said.

About 40 percent of Highline students are Latino, 19 percent are white, 15 percent are Asian, 15 percent are black, and 8 percent are multiracial.

By comparison, the approximately 97,000 students at San Diego Unified are 47% Latino, 23% White, 9% Asian, 8% African American, 8% multiracial, and 5% Filipino.

About 61 percent of Highline students are identified as low income by Washington standards; about 55 percent of San Diego Unified students are by California standards.

During Enfield’s tenure, the Highline District reformed its school disciplinary practices to suspend students out of school less often, she said. He also started a free full-time kindergarten before the state started funding it.

Her high schools have worked to increase job and internship opportunities for students, she said, as well as to increase access to advanced courses, such as Advanced Placement and IT. Highline increased its four-year high school graduation rate from 62% in 2013 to 84% in 2020, according to state data.

Some gaps persist among student groups, as in many school districts: Latino students, Native American / Alaska Native students, and Pacific Islander students all had lower graduation rates than the district average. . Black, Asian, white and multiracial students had above-average graduation rates of 88 to 89 percent.

During Enfield’s tenure, less than half of Highline’s students met state standards for English language math and arts, although they had improved markedly in English. In 2019, 48% of students met the standards in English, up from 39% in 2015; but in math, 35% achieved standards in 2019, up from 37% in 2015.

The Washington Association of School Administrators named Enfield Superintendent of the Year last month. Joel Aune, executive director of the association, said Highline is seen as a leading district in Washington for tackling racism and fairness in its schools. He had a lot of praise for Enfield.

“She is very intelligent and has a very energetic passion for the job and for the students in her schools. She wears it to work every day, ”Aune said. “She’s ready to take a difficult path if it’s the right path for the kids.”

Enfield announced in June that she was considering leaving Highline to work in a new location and “move on to the next challenge,” she said.

San Diego, CA – August 30: San Diego Unified School District Acting Superintendent Lamont Jackson speaks at Mira Mesa High on August 30, 2021 in San Diego.

(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Lamont jackson

Between Enfield and Jackson, Jackson has a clear advantage on the field.

Jackson attended San Diego District Schools, graduated from San Diego Colleges, and worked for San Diego Unified for more than three decades.

He rose through the ranks from basketball coach and teaching assistant to teacher, then college principal, then human resources chief, then zone superintendent.

On the day Marten’s appointment as assistant secretary of education was announced, the school board announced that it had chosen Jackson behind closed doors to take over as acting superintendent.

Staff members who worked with Jackson have said he is a charismatic and sympathetic leader who remembers the details of people’s lives and is ready to show his vulnerability. In his speeches, he emphasizes fairness for students as the main objective.

“I think a lot of people in the district have positive feelings about Superintendent Jackson, mainly because he has been with our district for so many years,” said Kisha Borden, president of the San Unified Teachers Union. Diego and member of the Research Advisory Committee. .

Even before the school board formed its 48-member committee to oversee the search for a superintendent, several administrators suggested Jackson for the permanent position.

“He’s been on the right path to being superintendent his entire career,” said Donis Coronel, executive director of the San Diego Unified Directors Union, in February. “I think we have a good candidate right under our noses here.”

Still, there were some controversies during his tenure as interim leader.

Jackson sparked complaints and criticism in November when he announced his intention, a week in advance, to make the day after Veterans Day a “day off for mental health” for students and the government. staff.

Some parents said the short notice left them deadlocked for childcare that day. A day later, Jackson reversed the course and said it would be an optional mental health day off for students, but teachers had to work. Some teachers said they felt like they were being used as babysitters.

Lamont Jackson moderated a community discussion

Lamont Jackson leads a community meeting.

(Misael Virgen / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Jackson then apologized for causing the confusion. Borden said the incident was a lesson in the need for more transparency and communication from district leaders.

“This was a clear example where asking for feedback would have been helpful,” Borden said.

When asked how he would value his time as Acting Superintendent, Jackson said in an email that he continues to lead and support educators’ efforts to prepare students for the next grade level, in college. and careers while focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“My goal has been to move the district forward in the same positive direction it was heading in when I started,” he said. “This means that we are doing everything possible to protect the health, safety and well-being of our students and staff in difficult circumstances. “

When asked why he held the position of permanent superintendent, Jackson said he was honored the board chose him as a finalist.

“The San Diego Unified School District is where I grew up and attended school, and where I have dedicated my life’s work as an educator. It’s hard to describe what it’s like for me to be able to give back to a community that has done so much for me except to say that everything I do is in the spirit of the African saying Ubuntu, “I am, because WE are, ‘”Jackson wrote.

The school board is expected to meet behind closed doors in mid-January to select a new superintendent, who will begin his new role Jan. 18 during the annual district state address.

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