June 22, 2018
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Teenager elected to Old Town school board talks education reform

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

OLD TOWN, Maine — The newest member of the Old Town school board is still a teenager, but he doesn’t let that hold him back.

“I felt I had a unique perspective as someone who just went through the process,” 19-year-old Lee Jackson said Sunday during an interview at the University of Maine, where he is a second-year political science student, about why he ran for office.

The 2011 Old Town graduate said he had a hard time in elementary school because of his race (he is half black and has dark skin), but that all changed when his family moved to Old Town when he was in the fourth grade.

“I remember on the first day of kindergarten I was told [by a bully that] I couldn’t play with the other kids because I was a different color,” Jackson said. “That kid probably doesn’t remember, but I do.”

The discrimination continued and Jackson never felt connected to his school or community until he arrived in Old Town.

“I thought, ‘This was how school is suppose to be,’” Jackson recalled.

His whole life changed for the better in Old Town and that is why he wants to return the favor as part of the Regional School Unit 34 board of directors. Jackson, who already volunteers at the annual Riverfest and at the Old Town Y, said he is organizing a panel of parents and recent graduates to get feedback about how to improve the local school system.

“I have some ideas on my own, but I want to know, ‘What does Old Town need?’” Jackson said.

He ran for one of two open seats on the nine-member board against incumbents Donna Conary, who retained her seat with 665 votes, and David Wollstadt, who earned 584 votes against Jackson’s tally of 614 votes, according to unofficial election results.

After hearing he won, “I was so happy I hugged the city clerk,” Jackson said. “The first thing I did was call my grandmother.”

Jackson, who is also pursuing a minor in Maine studies at UMaine, said he first thought about running for the school board back when he was a student at the J.A. Leonard Middle School and the school board of the time came to visit. He was awed by how unconnected he felt after being introduced to the group.

“That memory sticks out,” he said. “It was just a moment that stuck out in my mind about how out of touch they were.”

Before deciding to take out nomination papers, Jackson spoke to his parents, grandparents and the parents of a few friends in town to gauge their response. All supported the idea, and with a lot of help from friends and relatives on the campaign trail, the rest is history, he said.

“I’m hoping I can help provide a bridge between the community and the elected members,” Jackson said.

RSU 34 includes Alton Elementary School, Viola Rand Elementary School in Bradley, Old Town Elementary School, the Leonard Middle School, Old Town High School and the Southern Penobscot Regional Program.

Jackson, who is an employee at the Old Town McDonald’s, is scheduled to be sworn into office at the Dec. 5 school board meeting.

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