Guthrie native wins national award for educational excellence

Shavon (Young) Jackson received one of the highest honors in education as she was selected as one of nine principals in the nation to be awarded the Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership award.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently made the announcement. A virtual award ceremony will be held on Nov. 12.

“I’m extremely honored and grateful to receive this award,” Jackson said in a social media post.

Jackson is the daughter of Gladys and the late, great Willie Young. She is the younger sister to Kendell and Shannon.

Jackson, a 1999 Guthrie High School graduate, is the principal at Crawford Elementary in Russellville, Arkansas. Her school achieved the status of a National Blue Ribbon Schools, which celebrates school excellence, turn around stories and closing subgroup achievement gaps.  

The word used most often to describe Principal Jackson’s leadership style is empowering. Under her leadership, the Crawford Elementary school community felt empowered to implement needed changes because she set them up for success and responded to their suggestions. She cultivated a shared vision and renewed energy for a school in need of support. She listened to all voices, built upon the school’s strengths, engaged teachers as leaders, supported learning in new ways, and created a student-focused learning environment.

For as long as she can remember, Jackson wanted to be a teacher. After beginning her career teaching secondary English courses, she eventually became Chair of the English Department. As Chair, she developed her sense of leadership and learned how meaningful professional learning communities and collaboration could support teaching and learning. In 2013, she settled into the Russellville, Arkansas community, serving as an instructional facilitator in a neighboring district for a year before transitioning to an administrative position at a junior high school in the Russellville School District. In 2017, she made another move and stepped out of the secondary world for the first time, proudly taking the position of Principal at Crawford Elementary.

When Jackson arrived at Crawford Elementary, the school was not performing well and morale was declining among students, teachers, and the community. Upon her arrival at Crawford, the school had a Public School Rating letter grade of D. Within three short years under Principal Jackson’s leadership, Crawford increased its rating to a B. Rather than relying solely on data analysis to learn about the “why” behind the low school performance, she focused on reenergizing staff, empowering the whole school community, reengaging families, and resetting expectations. Operating as a teacher first, Jackson got to know her teaching staff individually while celebrating their profession through conversations, supportive classroom visits, handwritten notes, and special acknowledgements. Soon, teachers felt valued and the climate of the school immediately began to change. Teachers revisited instructional approaches and poured this renewed energy into their instruction, positively impacting student engagement, achievement, and behavior.

Jackson had a vision that regardless of circumstances, all students could learn with the appropriate supports by creating an environment and culture that celebrates and respects diversity. What she didn’t know was if the whole school community shared that vision. Recognizing that she needed a coalition to bring the vision to life, she started by listening. She used surveys and town hall meetings to gather feedback from stakeholders, and hoped that the school community would coalesce around a common vision. The vision included new traditions, innovative strategies, and new ways to problem-solve. Principal Jackson listened carefully to teachers’ visions for teaching and learning. With a broad-base of support, she moved swiftly to create a learning environment and culture to celebrate and respect diversity through student-focused learning. She embedded opportunities during professional development days and faculty meetings to strengthen inclusive practices and develop culturally responsive teaching to ensure all students felt represented. Through her leadership, staff shifted from feeling powerless about changing uncontrollable factors, such as poverty and trauma, to learning and practicing evidence-based strategies to support learners living under these conditions.

While building a sense of school purpose and community, Jackson helped staff establish a Professional Learning Community (PLC). The PLC process serves as a framework for developing a collaborative school culture and for supporting the school’s shared vision. Collaborative teams of administrators, teacher leaders, staff, and specialists, work together to meaningfully analyze data, create a forum for creative problem-solving, develop effective strategies, focus on progress, and strengthen reflective practices. They serve as a mechanism to empower staff to serve in leadership roles and work to implement changes.


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