Fairmont Schools in Orange County
Working at Fairmont Schools is in Chad Jackson’s DNA.
His grandfather founded the school in 1953 and his father took over in 1979.
“I always wanted to follow in their footsteps,” said Jackson, who is now president of the school, which includes campuses across Orange County.
He has a long history in education — including teacher, assistant director, director of operations and executive vice president — and his passion for education is rooted deep in his family’s legacy.
“I have worked in education for 28 years, first teaching in Brazil, later in Taiwan, U.S. public schools, and then back at Fairmont,” said Jackson, who has been named the 2022 Top Leader.
He said working in education is “fulfilling, meaningful and it changes people’s lives.
“Once you get an education it can’t be taken away from you. I love the value we are bringing children and paving the way for them to create a better life for themselves, however that may be. I don’t think there is a more worthy, impactful profession out there, to be honest.”
Fairmont Schools Chief Operating Officer Mary Jane Miller, who nominated Jackson for the Top Leader award, has worked with him since December 2020.
“Chad is the third generation of his family to lead Fairmont, so he has a deep sense of responsibility to the Fairmont tradition,” said Miller. “At the same time, he’s a modern, professional educator. He does a great job of balancing this.”
During COVID, Jackson has had to quickly pivot to adapt to the uncertainty and frequent changes.
“Obviously we have experienced enormous challenges when our schools were shut down and we had to go remote, and today we continue to face these challenges,” said Jackson. “It has impacted us financially, culturally, and while our data shows that our students didn’t experience a COVID slide, they were definitely impacted socially and emotionally.”
But overcoming the challenges has been a big focus. For one, he oversaw innovations in remote learning, including leveraging live-streamed instruction and cutting-edge technology like Swivl robotics.
“That has been a big portion of what I and my colleagues have focused on — to overcome these challenges by adapting new technology, retrofitting our campuses, training new skills, addressing staffing issues, navigating the restrictions and requirements within a wide spectrum of beliefs and concerns of everyone involved,” he said.
He said that at the outset of the pandemic, in February 2020, they were keeping track of the news and to what was happening in post-secondary education, and it became apparent that this could potentially happen at the K-12 level.
“I immediately reached out to our education team and others, and asked them to prepare for the eventuality of going remote,” he said. “Thankfully, we were already set up on a virtual platform, so it wasn’t a huge stretch when March 13 came, to quickly pivot to fully remote. Thanks to our incredible team and our resources, we were able to make the transition successfully and smoothly.”
He said they invested a significant amount of money retrofitting their campuses so that students were able to return to campus in September 2020 for in-person learning while providing the families the option of remote in a hybrid format.
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“This hybrid model we continued for the entire 2020-2021 school year, thanks to all the efforts of our teams to create a safe environment,” he said. “Because of this, we were the one of 15 schools in OC to open our campuses to in-person learning in the fall of 2020.”
Jackson said the accomplishment he’s been most proud of is the impact that he’s personally had in the lives of the students that he taught, directly as well as indirectly, throughout his career.
“If a student desires to enter the field of education because of my example or because of their experience at Fairmont, that is what makes me the most proud,” he said.
He said despite challenges, he’s continued working in education all these years because he loves what he does.
“I feel committed to Fairmont because it is mine and my family’s legacy but also education gives me the unique opportunity to see my own kids in their classrooms, on the sports fields, while I am working, and have that interaction on a daily basis,” he said.
By Jessica Peralta