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Randall Jackson Reflects as Retirement as Superintendent Nears
Randall Jackson
 (By Don Meador, Allen County Schools, June 26, 2019)

   On a lazy humid July afternoon in the summer of 2007, Randall Jackson enjoyed an ice cream cone as he walked slowly around the Scottsville square. The start of the 2007-08 school year was just days away. Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie, Jackson was in his first month as the new superintendent of the Allen County School District. Having not ascended to the superintendent’s chair through the local District, Jackson was getting to know the community, starting with the heart of Scottsville. 

   “In my opinion, the very first priority for a superintendent who comes from a different area into a new community is to get to know the school employees, the Board of Education, and the people in the community who support the schools,” Jackson explained. 

   Jackson was an outsider to the local community but not an outsider to southcentral Kentucky. Born and raised on a farm only miles from the Tennessee line in southern Logan County, Jackson received his education at Adairville---a small school that included first through 12th grade students. 

   “I was influenced by certain people, teachers, and parents,” Jackson said during an introductory interview published in The Citizen-Times in 2007. “I felt I had the ability to deal with people and enjoyed working with young people.”

   Following graduation from Adairville in 1976, Jackson journeyed from the rich farmland alongside highways 431 and 68/80 a short distance to college at Western Kentucky University. After earning his undergraduate degree in 1980, Jackson’s first teaching role came as a social studies educator at tiny Whitesville Trinity High School in Daviess County. Two years later, Jackson returned to southcentral Kentucky, walking into a classroom at Warren Central High School---a much larger school in the heart of Bowling Green. Four years later, Jackson moved from the classroom into administration as the assistant principal at Central. When Greenwood High School opened in 1990, Jackson transitioned into the same role at the new school. 

   The steps up the career ladder continued in the mid-1990s. Jackson was chosen as principal at Alvaton Elementary in 1993, a job that he held until moving to the Warren County central office in 2004. Three years as Director of Student Support Services in Warren County paved the way to Jackson applying for the Allen County superintendent’s job---and a chance at the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. In May of 2007, Jackson was selected from an initial candidate pool of 22 applicants to replace retiring superintendent Larry Williams.

   Jackson’s walk around the square was one of many small steps the Logan County native took while settling into his new role as the overseer of a growing school district. Jackson listened to the wise advise of Wilson Stone---a member of the Board of Education that hired Jackson 12 years ago,

   “Mr. Stone encouraged me to go to a Rotary Club meeting and a Chamber meeting as soon as I could,” Jackson recalled. “I did both of those within my first month. That was sound advice. Almost immediately the welcome I got from the men and women in those organizations was like I had been here all my life. I think the culture norms in Allen County are very similar to what I grew up with in Logan County. Southcentral Kentucky people are southcentral Kentucky people. We all have many of the same values and a sense of right and wrong, and standards we try to live our lives with. I was so very appreciative of the welcome I received from the very first days, not just from the people in the Central Office and the school employees I met over the summer but from the support of the community. I was welcomed with open arms. It was just like I had been raised in Scottsville instead of Adairville. They welcomed me, wanted me to do well, and wanted me to succeed.”

   Looking back over his time in Allen County, Jackson seemed to fight back tears, noting that the community’s initial support has only grown stronger. 

   “I can honestly say that for the past 12 years,” Jackson added, pausing for a moment, “I cannot imagine a situation where no one as a superintendent could have got more support than what I have got from the Allen County Scottsville community. It’s been unbelievable.”

   Jackson recalled that coming to Allen County schools as a superintend represented the fulfillment of a career ambition. 

   “When I got into education in 1982, I wanted to be a school superintendent,” Jackson explained. “When I was teaching, I knew I wanted to ultimately be a superintendent. I didn’t know a lot about the Allen County School District by I had done my research. I knew there were a lot of good things going on. 

   The transition to his new role was made easy given the support from the community, the school system and a realization that he was in a place where support would abound. 

   “I remember thinking in those days that I really wasn’t extremely nervous,” Jackson said. “Being a little nervous is a good thing when you go into a new district but I don’t remember myself being extremely nervous about coming. Part of that was laid from the Allen County Board of Education when I interviewed and when I accepted the position. It was a feeling that we are here to help you, we want you to succeed, and the community was the same way. So, from almost day one, the expectation that I was going to be supported was there”

   In addition, Jackson admits that his homework on Allen County left him with the knowledge that he was coming into a very solid school district where high expectations would be fulfilled.

   “I knew the academics was there,” Jackson said. “I knew the school had excellent facilities; I knew the quality of the people that worked there. I knew the financial situation of the district. What you do is when you move to a community and become part of the community, is see the ultimate goal---what can we do as a group to further advance the general welfare and education of our students in the community? Your expectation is that you are going to do your best and that the people will help you. I expected the school district to continue to prosper and move forward and that has happened.”

   Jackson adds that he feels his path to a successful 12-year, three contract term as superintendent has been due to the support and teamwork exhibited by so many across the system and community. 

   “It’s not all Randall Jackson, I can promise you that,” Jackson humbly acknowledged. “I have tried my best. But, how could you fail with the level of support I have gotten from the people that work in this office and this district and the people from this community? How could a person fail with that kind of support? I am the most fortunate superintendent alive because of that type of support.”

   Jackson is quick to note that many things have changed in Allen County School District over the past 12 years. 

   “You can look at three areas, academics, general welfare for kids, and the physical foundations,” Jackson explains, “Academics should always be at the forefront. Academics and the vision for kids to do well and be prepared for college, technical school, the world of work, the military has to be at the forefront. You also have to be concerned about the general welfare of your kids—the programs we have in place to help kids and all those factors we have to help the general welfare of the kids. You see the academics as the goal you strive for but you must have the foundation---the buildings themselves, the standards of discipline and behavior. You can’t just rely on one single factor. It must be a mixture of all those things. Districts that don’t put a priority on proper discipline and standards of right and wrong, they are never going to achieve that goal of the academics. So many good things were in place before I came to Allen County. I have tried my best to help them to keep going forward. This is a truly excellent school district and will continue to be so.”

   Academically, Allen County Schools have met and exceeded Kentucky standards in many areas in the past 12 years. The District has consistently adjusted and moved forward as the Kentucky Department of Education created new goals and revised academic expectations. Jackson has watched as each school has created new programs and explored new methods to raise the bar for the 3,000 students across the District. 

   Changes to enhance learning have come at each school. New technology has been implemented---technology such as smart boards for classrooms, Chromebooks for more and more students, on-line learning opportunities, and expanded learning labs. Among many things, Jackson has witnessed and supported the implantation of reading and math development programs at the Allen County Primary center, the creation of the Leader In Me program at the Allen County Intermediate Center, the ongoing data-driven initiatives at the James E. Bazzell Middle School, and the start of Advanced Placement, dual-credit classes, and off-campus college level classes at the high school. The new Allen County Career and Technical Center paved the way for students to have greater opportunities to prepare for careers---careers that can start even before students officially graduate high school. Under Jackson’s guidance, Allen County students have continued to be prepared for college and/or trained for a career---becoming certified for life. 

   In terms of student welfare, advances have been made. Not a day has passed since Jackson took the superintendent’s seat that a child has not been helped in some way by the dedicated faculty and staff that Jackson oversees. Be it a smile from a well-trained and highly qualified educator which brightens a child’s day or be it a child receiving a backpack filled with food made possible by Family and Youth Services, lives have been and are being changed each day in the hallways and classrooms across the school district. 

   During his time in Allen County, the physical changes have been many. The campus has seen a $20 million renovation for the Allen County-Scottsville High School---improvements which included additional classrooms, technology improvements, a new administrative office area, new band and choir rooms, and multi-purpose athletic complex that’s also used for JROTC activities and school and district-wide activities. The James E. Bazzell Middle School underwent a $9 million renovation to upgrade the 30-year old school. Jackson also was at the helm for the construction of the new Allen County Career and Technical Center---an $11 million project which replaced the 30-year old Allen County Vocational School. Today, the Tech Center is one of the most advanced on-site facilities in the state offering Career and Technical Education classes. 

   The improvements have enabled Allen County to continue to have learning environments second to none.  In addition, athletic upgrades have been seen with improvements to the high school athletic venues. Jackson has also overseen the start of expanded extracurricular and athletic programs---such as run clubs for elementary students, archery at the Intermediate Center and Bazzell Middle School, and the start of soccer at the middle and high schools. 

   “We have kept up with the times,” Jackson added. “I will say, the next phase (facility wise) will be looking at renovation of the Primary Center in the next seven, eight, or 10 years. You have to be looking every year at the next steps down the road.”    

   On May 24---the closing day of his last school year---Jackson visited each school to spend a few minutes talking with faculty and staff. During his remarks, he reflected on how far education has come and how education has changed since he walked into his first classroom in 1982. 

   “Education is unbelievably more complicated,” Jackson said. “As I went around to say my goodbyes to the certified and classified staff, I was trying to tell them the difference between education then and education now. Many of our current employees weren’t even born in 1982. I am 61 years old and I’ve seen a few things. There is no comparison what I did as a young teacher or what the expectation was for education in 1982 and now. The education our children are receiving today compared to 1982, there is no comparison to have much further we are ahead in the ballgame.”

   Jackson added that more teamwork exists today than ever before, part of the changing scope of education. 

   “Teachers did not plan together back in those days,” Jackson added. “When you had your first day, you were assigned your class roster, and you had classes the next day. There was no collaboration. There was no professional development where people got together and went to conferences. There was no learning communities where teachers got together to share ideas or lesson plans or set goals for their curriculum. It was just what was in the textbook, which might not have been updated at the time or was truly important to what you were striving to do. I was probably a decent teacher and I probably taught as many people taught at the time. It was that way in administration. There has been so much added to it. As our culture has evolved to be so much more complex, we had to change. What worked in 1982 doesn’t work in 2019.”  

   Jackson believes that this District does an outstanding job preparing students for life beyond high school.

   “Definitely, no doubt in my mind,” Jackson said. “All of that stems from dedication, love of students, love of children, and wanting young people to go beyond what their parents and grandparents could achieve possibly. That all stems from caring. It’s all about our employees and our community wanting the very best for our students. It’s not just my student I care about, it’s caring about all the students in that graduating class or that kindergarten class. That is where it starts. Many people give lip service to ‘I love this’ or ‘I care about my students’, or ‘I care about this’ but until actions are put into words, it’s just lip service. Here in Allen County, it’s put into words, the actions of people. I also think we have done a great job in Kentucky and in Allen County in preparing our kids for such a complex global environment where the competition is so key to get those good jobs. It is much more different to be a young person today than it was years ago.”

   Jackson praised the administrators, the faculty, and the staff with whom he has worked with since 2007. 

   “Unsurpassed,” Jackson said. “The way a superintendent can evaluate is not just with an instrument that the state may require. The way you realize the quality of the individuals you work with is by seeing how they perform their jobs, their actions, and their dedication. Unsurpassed. It’s not the just the people in the Central Office, it’s not just the principals and vice-principals, it’s not just the teachers, it’s not just the classified people. It’s everyone. I can honestly say that in my professional career over the last 12 years, I have never seen a more dedicated group of individuals.”

   The oversight of 3,000 students and a staff of hundreds, navigating the District through the ups-and-downs of state funding, or the lack thereof, and facing the task of helping Allen County achieve state academic goals and objectives, were among the many things Jackson has faced in 12 years. 

   The amount of state funding for each pupil has been a challenging part of the job. On occasion, Jackson has been forced to make difficult personal cuts due to declines in funding. 

   “In attending superintendent conferences in the fall of 2007, the outlook was very rosy as far as being able to provide more resources, have more money for technology, and more money for raises for our employees,” Jackson said. “Then of course, along came 2008 and 2009 with the economic upheaval. It opened your eyes. All of a sudden, at any particular time, we might get a message from Frankfort that you were going to be cut $300,000 thousand in December and to not expect a particular payment from our SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) funding. That was difficult. In the 2010 year, we had to lay off folks and that wasn’t easy. It has continued to be a worry over the years. We are thankful that with the last General Assembly the SEEK allocation went up and we hope for continued growth with our allocation from the state. The funding aspect is always there. I think we have done a good job of working together in taking what we get and cutting the fluff. It’s been difficult but with a team effort we have had, it’s been manageable.”

   In addition, day-to-day operations can involve stressful calls. Winter months required Jackson to make decisions regarding opening or closing school, bearing in mind the safety of each student on a bus, a student, driver, parents, or school employee. Each sunrise involves potential worries as buses traverse 40 routes mornings and afternoons. Plus, the increase in school shootings across the nation was never far from Jackson’s mind. For some, the result would be sleepless nights and unbearable stress. Jackson has remained strong, For him, his strength has come through his faith.

   “We live in a fallen world and many aspects of our culture in the United States are crumbling and the moral fabric that has been so important in America all of these years. That’s why it’s so essential in a place like Scottsville and Allen County that we try and hold onto that with our faith and our prayer. That’s what helps me get through difficult times. Things are going to happen good and bad. What has helped me more than anything, along with the tremendous support, is knowing through prayer and faith we can solve our problems and overcome difficulties by working together and with the help of God. That’s how I deal with adversity.” 

   His faith---as was the faith of many---was immeasurably tested on a night in November of 2015. 

   For Jackson, the quietness of that Saturday night was interrupted by a troubling phone call. Moments later, Jackson found himself racing along 231 from his northwest Allen County home to the football field at the high school. Without minutes, Jackson learned the tragic news. Gabby Doolin, an eight-year-old student at the Allen County Primary Center had disappeared while attending a youth league football game. Authorities would soon find her lifeless body behind the Patriot baseball field. As law enforcement soon learned, Gabby had been assaulted and killed in a senseless, unimaginable act. For Jackson, it would be a tragedy that became the low point in his professional life.

   “The absolute most difficult time in my administration as superintendent of Allen County Schools was with little Gabby,” Jackson candidly admitted. “Nothing compares as far as a tragedy. This being a community of faith and people having their believe and trust in God that helped many of us. I hope we were able to help the Doolin family and still I hope we are able to help them.”

   Jackson will spend his final week on the job saying a few personal goodbyes, cleaning out his office, reflecting on the past 12 years in Allen County, and remembering his past 37 years in education. Sometime on Friday, June 28, Jackson will leave the Central Office, ready to enjoy retirement with his wife, children, and family.

   “My wife is retired so I can see us traveling,” Jackson added. “We make take a cruise next year. I am not going to set around the house and watch TV Land reruns. I plan on staying active. I plan on spending more time with my wife. We have been married 39 years and I hope there are many more years. I think I will take the days one day at a time and have the time to appreciate life itself. It’s going to be interesting. I have never dreaded coming to work in our school system and I don’t dread the prospect of retirement. I truly feel like if we allow God to help us and guide us, the days after retirement can be just as fulfilling as the days before you retire.”

   A date that Jackson expects to be tough will be on Sunday, August 4.

   “It’s going be very unusual the Sunday night before school starts,” Jackson explained. “I’ve been told by people that have retired (from education) that when it really hits you is when the school year begins. For 37 years, that Sunday night before school starts has been about thinking ahead and what’s going to happen that week.”

   In reflection, Jackson notes that he has always strived to do what was right.  

   “I have tried as an administrator as a vice-principal, as principal, during my tenure in the Central Office in Warren County, and my time here to do the right thing,” Jackson said. “In 1996, my good friend Tim Murley and I went to an education conference in Washington DC. We were both elementary principals at the time but we had aspirations of Central Office and ultimately being superintendents. I remember hearing a speech from General Norman Schwarzkopf. He was the commander in the Gulf War. I had read his book and I was very excited that he was going to be the keynote speaker. Schwarzkopf said that over his military career he had come to the realization---and that this would apply to anything you do---that the mark of a good leader is pretty simple. All he said was that you had to take responsibility and try and do the right thing. That stuck with me and that’s what I have endeavored to do and tried to do. I took a personality test years ago to determine what makes Randall Jackson tick. The number one thing on there was responsibility. I tried to be responsible with my leadership. If something goes bad then my first question is what could I have done different because it is ultimately my responsibility to make things better and what can I do differently to make a situation better. Then, try and do the right thing. That’s what I have tried to do the last 12 years. I pray that I have done it to the best of my ability. 

   “The final thing I would say to the people in this community, in this school district, to the wonderful employees in this school district that have helped me is that I will be eternally grateful.”

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