Buncombe County – Last week, Dr. Rob Jackson, the new Buncombe County School Superintendent, made appearances at the Weaverville and Woodfin Town Council meetings.
Jackson’s story is an interesting one. According to information on his background printed in the Weaverville Council agenda, Jackson, “a native of Buncombe County…[he] grew up and attended school in Swannanoa. After serving in the United States Navy, he began his career in education as a student data manager and summer custodian. He worked his way through Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and Western Carolina University to earn his degree to become a teacher.
“Jackson worked in Buncombe County Schools for nine years, [first] as a classified employee and then [as] an elementary school teacher. Dr.Jackson also has a notable history as a school administrator, serving as an assistant principal in Gaston County and as a principal in three schools in Union County. In Union County, Jackson had the unique honor of serving as the inaugural principal for two different schools.
“In 2014, Dr. Jackson was named Superintendent of Edenton-Chowan Public Schools in eastern North Carolina, a position he held for six years before being named to his current role as Superintendent of Carteret County Public Schools.
“Over the past several years, Dr. Jackson has received multiple recognitions for his leadership, including being named the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Superintendent of the Year, a Dr. Sam Houston Superintendent Leadership Award recipient, and the Dr. Brad Sneeden Superintendent Leadership Award winner from the North Carolina School Superintendent Association.”
“Dr. Jackson was also honored as the 2011 Wells Fargo North Carolina State Principal of the Year and as the North Carolina High School Principal of the Year by the North Carolina Principals and Assistant Principals Association. Dr. Jackson earned his Bachelor of Science and Master of School Administration degrees from Western Carolina University and holds an Education Specialist Degree and Doctor of Education from Wingate University.”
The difference between his appearances before the two councils was the council’s questions and comments. The Weaverville Town Council offered no questions or comments for the new superintendent despite having at least two schools inside the town limits and at least one school on its doorstep.
On the other hand, Woodfin Town Council members (see article page ??) had comments and questions that showed they are very involved in their one school, Woodfin Elementary. At least two members of the board were fresh off a fundraiser for a new school playground. In addition, one of them, Woodfin Vice-Mayor Jim McAllister, besides asking when construction would begin on the new park, pointed out to Jackson that during COVID lockdowns, the school had lost contact with “almost two-thirds of the students…”
McAllister went on to say, ” We’ve got to, as a county and a town, make sure that can never happen again. I don’t know what the answers are, but hopefully that will be part of your strategy as you get settled in. It’s not a particularly well-to-do school, and we, as a town and the county, we can do better than that. So we look forward to hearing plans to make things better in that area to make sure that never happens again.”
While Jackson’s reply to McAllister seemed evasive, he eventually said something interesting. Jackson said the schools were looking at data to make sure students get the help they need in areas that they are deficient in as the schools make sure “our students all graduate. Enrolled, enlisted or employed. Our goal is that 100 percent of students walk across the stage, and when they take that first step after shaking their principal’s hand, they’re prepared for what comes next.”
“In education, for a while, we thought every child needed to go to college. Well, that’s not so. There is great success to be had by somebody working with their hands and graduating from high school,” Jackson added. “Going into a great job where they can support themselves and their family. So the employee component of those three pathways – enrolled, enlisted, or employed – is equally important.
When was the last time you heard a school superintendent say maybe everyone shouldn’t go to college? “Enrolled, enlisted, or employed.” I didn’t have a chance to follow up with Jackson about this “enrolled, enlisted, or employed” comment, but I suspect he means in rolled in college or tech school, enlisted in one of the military branches, or employed.
For too long, educators have tried to push everyone toward going to college, and college is not for everyone, especially for those who have to borrow money to go. These student loans have economically crippled these young adults’ ability to make money four years before even getting a job.
There are skilled jobs that can make one a good living without the burden of student loans, and I, for one, found the exchange between the council and Jackson refreshing.