August 23, 2013 – In Georgia, Fort Valley State University is a known statewide for producing exceptional, capable teachers that shine in their chosen profession. The university helps the dreams of aspiring educators become reality by giving them the necessary training, skills and personal mentoring they’ll need to teach America’s future generation of young people.
One of the phenomenal educators who first received her start on FVSU’s campus is Dr. Traci McKenzie Jackson, award-winning principal of the nationally-recognized Shirley Hills Elementary School.
In 2011, the school’s 3rd-and 5th-grade students were tied for a first-place ranking in Georgia on the English Language Arts portion of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests that measures student achievement. Her students had a 100-percent passing rate. That same year, the U.S. Department of Education named Shirley Hills Elementary School as a National Blue Ribbon School, and honored Jackson as one of seven Terrell H. Bell Award recipients. The award is given to outstanding American school leaders and that play a pivotal role in overcoming difficult circumstances. Thanks to Jackson, and the hard work of her team, pride runs deep at the Houston County elementary school. She created an environment of excellence for young people to learn on her campus. The Warner Robins school continues living up to its motto as the “Home of the Mustangs, and a Great Place to Learn.”
Jackson earned her Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Fort Valley State College. “A lot of what I learned about helping students came here from my time at FVSU,” the principal said. “I hear my colleagues talk about some of the universities that they attended, and they were not as personal as FVSU. I do remember my professors here. I don’t know if I was the easiest person to get along with—I hope I was—but they made it very easy for me to be a student at Fort Valley State. I graduated with my degree in criminal justice with plans for law school, and all of the above, but God had something different in mind. ”
Jackson decided to enter the education profession. In 1993, she received her Master of Science in Middle Grades Education from the university.
“I tell people that I’m right where I should be at this time,” the educator said.
After her graduation, Bibb County Schools hired Jackson to teach fourth grade classes at Springdale Elementary School. Jackson transferred to Houston County where she taught fifth grade classes at David A. Perdue Elementary School.
In 1999, Jackson received leadership certification and a Specialist in Education degree from the University of Georgia. Later, she graduated with a Doctorate of Educational Leadership from Argosy University-Atlanta in 2007.
Jackson’s work ethic and leadership skills quickly led her star to ascend into school administration. She began serving as an assistant principal in Lindsey, Parkwood and Westside elementary schools. In 2002, Shirley Hills Elementary School hired the FVSUalumna as its principal.
“When I first got the appointment at Shirley Hills Elementary School, it was only 30 percent African Americans, now my African-American students outnumber my other students that I have in my building,” Jackson said. According to a State Department of Education press release, students that were eligible for subsidized meals at Jackson’s school doubled from 33 to 66 percent. To help young people, Jackson created a morning tutorial program. The teacher converted the cafeteria into a classroom. There, she serves a lead teacher, providing young people with an extra hour of math and reading review.
“It’s my job every day to let them know that they are kings and queens that can do anything that they put their hearts and minds too,” she said. “They have to be prepared to step into their destiny. I tell them they can be anything they want to be, but they need to start now.”
The principal also led the conversion of Shirley Hill Elementary to a Title I School. Jackson accomplished this by moving the school to a standards-based curriculum. The educator provided professional development, professional learning communities and collaborative planning for teachers.She also ensures that instructors receive advanced professional learning and training to use assessment data.It has been a Title I Distinguished School for more than a decade.
Under Jackson’s leadership, the elementary school continues rising to greater heights. Shirley Hills has won the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders’ School Bell Award twice for its educational programs, and was awarded the Title 1 Distinguished School for nine consecutive years.The school is making its Annual Yearly Progress under Jackson’s tenure, and received the 2011 Honorable Mention High Flying School Award.
“I wanted to say that being in education at this day and time is not an easy job,” said Jackson during an address at FVSU’s Banks-Pierro-Rutland-Bellamy Colloquium. “If you are in it for all of the wrong reasons, you won’t last. Students should be passionate about what we do [as educators], and we need to have a passion about what we do. They come to us rich, poor, slow, average, smart, a lot of different personalities, and so you have to be willing to get into the trenches with teachers, in order to help to make these students the best that they can be.”
The 2011 National Blue Ribbon School Award and the Terrell H. Bell Award were not the only honors that Jackson earned. The following year, the professional was named one of three Outstanding Women in Education within Georgia. During 2012, the educator was also first runner up for the National Distinguished Principal. The FVSU Warner Robins Area Alumni chapter awarded Jackson a Bridge Award for her outstanding achievements, and she was given a “Distinguished Alumni in Academic Award Service” from at the university’s BPRB Colloquium.
“All of the accolades, I thank God for those, but that’s not the reason I do the job I do every day,” said Jackson. “That’s not why I get up every morning. [It’s not why] get dressed in a hurry, so I can be the first face that my students see when they walk through the door. I want to give them that motivation, discipline and inspiration that the need to be the very best that they can.”