Madison-Plains Local Schools is giving a heart-felt goodbye to its longest serving teacher, who has been with the district for 46 years.
Steven Jackson put in his resignation in January and is set to retire at the end of the month.
“I know the board as a whole has a massive amount of respect and for Mr. Jackson, but for me he was my favorite teacher,” said school board member Mark Mason.
Mason said he had him during his senior year for a college prep writing course. He said that Jackson stuck out in his memory for his ability to engage with his students. In that class, Mason remembers him helping students figure out what they would do after they graduated and to cultivate their interests.
“He was inspiring, I mean I like history, writing and those sort of things but he made it particularly interesting to be a part of his class,” he said. “The way he conducted himself, he wasn’t just good at teaching but he put time into getting to know you. He really cared.”
Jackson said it was all part of the plan.
“It can all be summed up in two words, move and learn,” he said. “Before it was ‘sit and go,’ teachers would read out of the book, ask questions and kids take direct notes for an hour or so.”
With fellow teacher Ken Moody, who retired in 2005, they made their classrooms more engaging with group work and collaborative projects that directly meant something to students, such as with mock congresses or model UN simulations.
“Now these things are fairly common,” he said. “But back in the day, we would travel the county to explain to people what we did.”
The “once removed” Madison Countian
Jackson was born and raised in Grove City, where he still lives today. But a large portion on both sides of his family had roots in Madison County.
“My grandparents actually lived down Linson Road, a bit further from where the high school is today,” he said. “I spent a lot of my free time and childhood here. I guess you could say I’m a Madison Countian one-step removed.”
Because of these familial ties, he was drawn to the Madison-Plains school district as his first teaching position after graduating in 1971.
“I applied to five districts, Madison-Plains gave me the first job offer and I immediately jumped for it,” he said.
For the first seven years, he taught at the old high school in downtown Mount Sterling, before transferring to the current building after it was finished.
“I still call it the ‘new high school building,’” he said, laughing. “Students will give you this strange look when you call it that, but comparatively it’s true!”
Civics-English with hands on learning
With Moody, he developed a curriculum called civics-English, which combined literature with American history. Attached to the classes he would take students on trips to historic civil war battlefields, to various major cities, such as Washington, D.C., Williamsburg, Va., New York City and Philadelphia.
The locations would change based on cost, testing curriculum and availability, but the goals were the same — give students experience in different places, give a hands-on visual component to improve historical understanding but most of all give the students a shared experience to keep for their lives.
“I think only two percent of America lives in a rural area,” he said. “Wherever you live, you’ll have this idea ‘this is how we all live.’ My goal was to broaden horizons and give them life experience that was important. When we still flew, for some students it was for the first time.”
“But most of all, you got the kids to live, sleep and eat together for four days, talking about what they saw and did,” he said. “It made it more than a trip.”
Tobi Briggs and Michelle Van Vleet will be taking over the curriculum after he leaves, and he’s certain they’ll do a good job.
Saying goodbye but keeping busy
“Things change,” Jackson said. “And this community of Madison-Plains is not immune to an ever changing history.”
He noted how the single family farms changed into larger plots, turning economic situations and more reshaped the area over the years.
But in his mind, the passion of the students never changed.
“The student body remains a delight to teach, albeit you sometimes have to yank their chains,” he said. “Overall, they’re very teachable and bring this world some joy.”
When he leaves, he won’t be just spending time with close family and friends. He’s president of Grove City’s Historical Society and President of Madison-Plains’ Scholarship foundation.
But in the meantime, Jackson is looking forward to a long vacation.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.