Holtville Middle School principal Lee Jackson wants his students to know they are important, loved and protected, even at lunch.
Jackson puts an extra $50 into his lunch account every month for students to use if they run out of money on their accounts so they can eat.
“The flip side to that is if I go in and get lunch I do not have lunch money but it’s fine,” Jackson said. “My kids, the fuller they are, (the more) they can learn on full stomachs.”
Jackson has also helped pay for students’ sports, hosted school parties for those who have done well and tutored children who were struggling. Jackson said he has always wanted to give back to students after his elementary teachers gave back to him when he was growing up.
“The teachers who invested in me believed in me and assisted me to become not just an educator but a productive citizen as well,” Jackson said.
Jackson graduated from Holtville High School in 1993 and majored in early learning education at Alabama State. He started his career teaching at Holtville Elementary and Coosa Elementary schools.
Jackson has been the principal at Holtville Middle School for seven years and is passionate about making his students his first priority. He said middle schoolers need guidance, trust and empowerment.
“To me this is the most important age because a student can be persuaded or a student can be encouraged and I prefer to use encouragement for assisting my students,” Jackson said.
Jackson said it’s interesting to see students transition from fourth to fifth grade when they enter middle school and from the fifth- and sixth-grade hallway to the seventh- and eighth-grade hallway.
“We are teaching our students to become pre-teenagers or we are getting ready to help form their pre-teenage years to becoming young, productive students who only have four more years to complete high school and who’s ready for the world,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he likes starting the school year by visiting the classrooms.
“It’s funny when the year starts off I’ll walk into the office and put my stuff down and go into the classrooms and sit beside the boys and girls and they’re like, ‘Hey, Mr. Jackson, how are you?’ At first they’re nervous, especially when school starts,” Jackson said.
In addition to helping with extracurricular activities and classes, Jackson helps students with personal issues and said students have come to him for help. Jackson said his favorite stories from working at the middle school include having a student build up their self-confidence by talking into a mirror at his office for 20 days straight. He has even gotten legal custody of a former student.
This year, the school held a rally to encourage students before the annual SCANTRON exams and Jackson got Elmore County Board of Education member David Jones to speak with the students. Jackson likes having the students benchmark their academic progress throughout the year.
“Our decisions are made based on the individual needs of the student and that to me is important,” Jackson said.