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Thursday, August 11, 2022

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Precious Jackson-Hubbard Precious Jackson-Hubbard

Seeing Every Child as Precious

SDSU doctoral student and award-winning principal Precious Jackson-Hubbard transforms lives.
By Michael Klitzing

“SDSU feels like family. What I've experienced is exactly what the educational experience should be. There's an element of trust and love.”

In a role many associate with punishment and discipline, Bell Middle School principal Precious Jackson-Hubbard is making a difference in one San Diego community by offering students something else entirely: love.

It’s a love that comes from a place of profound understanding.

“I look at these young people and I see myself, my little brothers, my little cousins — I see a lot of little Preciouses,” said Jackson-Hubbard, a student in San Diego State University’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program whose personal and professional journey was inspired by mentorship she received as a teenager from an SDSU faculty member.

“What I experienced as a child, no child should ever have to experience — but they do,” Jackson-Hubbard said. “I got through it because of the support of other people. Now I want to be a part of that change for them.”

Bell is located in the San Diego’s Paradise Hills neighborhood — one of the city’s most underserved communities — and students have plenty to contend with before they ever set foot in the classroom. Roughly one in eight students at the school are homeless or are sheltering with relatives or other households. Many more face food insecurity.

With so many basic needs going unmet, only 30% of Bell’s students enter the sixth grade performing at grade level in reading, writing or mathematics. For the school to grapple with these challenges, Jackson-Hubbard says accountability must start with a look in the mirror.

“We're just now getting to the point of asking ourselves, ‘How did we play a role in that?’” she said. “That's transformational. Many of us at Bell are on a journey to dig deep and figure out how we change the course of history for our students.”

In nearly seven years as principal, Jackson-Hubbard has earned the trust of the community, instilling a reputation for the school as a place of safety for young people. Among her most successful outreach initiatives is a community pantry, where Bell families in need can stock up on everything from nonperishable food to shoes.

In February, the Association of California School Administrators honored Jackson-Hubbard for her efforts, naming her middle school principal of the year for a region that covers San Diego and Imperial counties. The award has made her reflect on her own uncertain, often tragic, upbringing.

“I realize that I am being recognized for my work as an educator,” she said. “But I am who I am because of the people who helped me, loved me and believed in me since I was a little girl.”

A godmother’s love

Jackson-Hubbard talks reverently of the “guardian angels” who guided her on her path, from her first-grade teacher and high school principal who believed in her potential, to her paternal grandmother Mary Coleman Jackson, a 30-year SDSU chemistry department staff member who provided safe harbor from violence at home, to an SDSU faculty member who eventually became her godmother, Diane Lapp.

That relationship started more than 20 years ago when Lapp, a professor in the School of Teacher Education, was co-teaching at San Diego’s Oak Park Elementary school while on sabbatical. Lapp took an interest in a struggling first grader named Anthony and soon discovered the whole story. A mother haunted by drug addiction and incarceration. A father killed in a car accident. Nine children in the household, including a 15-year old named Precious.

Lapp said she immediately recognized something special in Precious.

“I saw that Precious wanted so badly to learn,” Lapp says “She always wanted to know about the world and what difference she could make in it.”

As Lapp spent more and more time with the family, a bond began to form. With their mother’s blessing, Lapp soon became godmother to the nine children, taking responsibility for their health and education.

“I guess I had a need to be a mother,” Lapp recalls, “and they had a need for a second mother.”

Said Jackson-Hubbard: "Diane opened her heart and her home to me and treated me as though I was her birth child. She's been a friend, she's been mom, she's been a confidant. She encourages me, pushes me and challenges me, but she provides me support along the way. I owe her an extreme level of gratitude for the relentless and unconditional love she has provided in my life.”

Building students up

Jackson-Hubbard is now the one who provides relentless and unconditional love to young people in need of extra support. She strives, she says, to be the adult champion who believes in them, rather than the principal who metes out punishment.

“I don't think God put me on this earth to be the judge or the jury,” said Jackson-Hubbard. “With that comes some accountability, but I want to build my students up, not break them down.”

That explains why she’s transparent with her students about her own life story, going so far as to share the difficult details at school assemblies. She wants the kids to know she gets it. She also wants them to know that, despite their challenges, success isn’t outside their grasp if they work hard. Jackson-Hubbard points out that she struggled with reading and writing as a child and spent most of her education academically below grade level.

It also explains her approach as a principal. Jackson-Hubbard says disruptive behavior at school is an indicator of trauma students are experiencing in the home or in the neighborhood. She believes a punitive mindset is often rooted in bias and acts as a driver of inequity in communities of color.

It’s a philosophy shaped both by personal experience and her experiences as a SDSU student. Jackson-Hubbard received her teaching credential, administrative services credential and master’s in educational leadership from the university. Now, this first-generation college student is on her way to becoming Dr. Precious Jackson-Hubbard.

"SDSU feels like family,” Jackson-Hubbard said. “What I've experienced is exactly what the educational experience should be. There's an element of trust and love.”

And among Jackson-Hubbard’s SDSU family, there’s no shortage of pride.

“She would laugh and probably not want me to tell you this, but I want her to be the U.S. Secretary of Education someday, or the superintendent of a big school district,” Lapp said. “She has a voice that a lot of people need to hear.”