ST. PETERSBURG — The new leader of John Hopkins Middle School, Dr. Dallas Jackson, is enthusiastic about the upcoming school year.
Jackson has significant historical ties to John Hopkins, which both challenges and excites him to do well at the neighborhood middle school. As a child, he recalls taking violin lessons at Immaculate Conception that sat on the border of then 16th Street Middle School, the previous name of John Hopkins Middle.
His childhood memories include Jackson’s father and Mr. John Hopkins working together at the school. In 1962, his mother also worked for Mr. Hopkins, the school’s namesake. His sister, Deborah, retired after 30 years in Pinellas County Schools teaching at John Hopkins Middle School. She was originally hired by the wife of Mr. Hopkins. Jackson’s wife also worked there as a guidance counselor.
John Hopkins inherited the former principal of Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School and there are obvious concerns how he will make the transition to the perceived challenging population of the school. Turns out there is no need to worry.
Jackson has worked with a similar population as a delinquency counselor and juvenile probation officer and served in the U.S. Army. His educational career began as a dropout retrieving/occupational specialist and he has experience working in areas from high poverty to low poverty and with high achievers to low achievers.
“It is important that we have academic momentum and be fanatical about focusing on scholars. Demography does not determine destiny,” he said, quoting Dr. Deborah Jewell Sherman, the first woman professor of practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“We take no excuses. We must enter each day with the same expectations because students capitalize on the level of expectation set before them. We are one school with International Baccalaureate emphasis. Art is a major part of us including drama, band and chorus among them. The top schools have IB and languid emphasis. We must be functional.”
Jackson visualizes using a proven business success model called Six Sigma to improve upon the school’s achievement from last year. The fundamental objective of the Six Sigma methodology for educators is the implementation of a measurement-based strategy that focuses on process improvement and variation reduction through the application.
Six Sigma at many organizations simply means a measure of quality that strives for near perfection. This model is a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects.
The statistical representation of Six Sigma describes quantitatively how a process is performing. To achieve Six Sigma, a process must not produce more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. A Six Sigma defect is defined as anything outside of customer specifications.
For Jackson, the product is each and every student assigned to John Hopkins Middle School. Losing one student affects the improvement and hinders movement toward perfection. It’s a model that he believes in and one the community can embrace.
“Barry Brown (the previous principal) got the school going in a good direction and it was tough,” said Jackson. “I’m here to strengthen the systems that are in place, maintain that level of accomplishment and to improve on the results. They worked hard to get to the ‘C.’”
To help drive the results, Jackson is connecting with community partners. Jim Oliver, a retired educator and mentor, is bringing a cultural relevance training to help students embrace their identity positively.
The Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum will host the Woodson Warriors and bring exposure to visual art. The City of St. Petersburg will partner to partake in a mural project, Gretchen Lettermen of the Tampa Bay Times will lead a journalism network and the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg and Manatee are partnering to provide teachers with professional development.
These are just a few of the pieces Jackson is bringing together to eliminate defects and improve overall performance.
“We should think like the airline industry. All pieces need to work coherently and the processes must be in place to bridge the gap and avoid casualties,” explained Jackson. “We need to have community engagement, raise the expected student achievement level, hold teachers accountable and have parent involvement.
Jackson remembers his childhood connection and the rich history of John Hopkins. He knows well the long list of leaders who made history with fanatical expectations.