Editor’s Note: David Jackson was chosen as president of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) by the NFHS Board of Directors. Jackson is beginning his third year as executive director of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) this month. He is the eighth – and first African- American – full-time executive director of the OSSAA, and he is the fifth current African-American to head a state high school association. Dr. Darrell Floyd, a member of the High School Today Publications Committee and superintendent of schools in Enid, Oklahoma, talked to Jackson about his leadership plan for the 2018- 19 school year.
Question: What is your background in secondary education, and what is your current position?
Jackson: I grew up in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, and went back to my hometown to start my teaching and coaching career. I taught math and coached football, basketball, and track and field for six years. I became the high school principal in 1990 and remained in that position for six years until Mr. Bill Self Sr. hired me to be a part of the OSSAA staff in 1996. I started as the assistant director in charge of cross country, large school basketball, and track and field. In 2009, I became the associate director, and then, in 2016, I became the executive director. I replaced my predecessor on the NFHS Board of Directors in 2016 and got the incredible opportunity to serve as Board president that school year.
I am blessed with a wonderful family consisting of my wife, Charlotte, of 31 years, and my 29-year-old twins Matt and Kaely. Charlotte has been an educator for 34 years and has been teaching for the past 23 years in the Edmond Public Schools System. Matt is a physical therapist at EnTrust Physical Therapy in Oklahoma City, and Kaely is a registered dietician at the University of Oklahoma’s Children’s Hospital.
Question: What are your strengths as statewide administrator of athletics and activities in Oklahoma?
Jackson: I am a very good listener with an ability to remain open to “outside-the-box” ideas. Another strength is my strong work ethic. I do not mind putting in the time to accomplish what needs to be done, and probably my greatest attribute is being able to get along with most anyone and being able to build relationships with different types of personalities.
Question: What is the strength of the NFHS as an organization?
Jackson: I think the strength of the NFHS is the solid leadership of the state associations that make up the membership. These are outstanding men and women who buy into the value of education- based activities and who spend countless hours providing fair and equitable participation opportunities for the mass of middle school and high school students.
Question: What is a potential area of improvement for the NFHS?
Jackson: The primary area of improvement that I see would be in providing staff development opportunities for the state association personnel, which is one of the board goals for the NFHS staff for this school year. Member states would like to have resources to help enhance the skills and abilities of their staffs that could be accessible through technology, publications or opportunities to meet with NFHS personnel.
Question: What is your agenda for your term as President of the NFHS? What would you like to see accomplished during your tenure?
Jackson: My agenda in the role of Board President is to help implement the ambitious goals that the NFHS Board has presented to the membership for the 2018-19 school year. I look forward to working with the Board and the staff to achieve those goals. I am also very excited to serve in this role during a time when we welcome our new executive director for the NFHS. I am confident that Dr. Karissa Niehoff will build upon the great work started by Mr. Bob Gardner and will lead our Federation to new heights. In a short amount of time, she has already established herself as an exceptional leader.
Question: What are some of the obstacles that the NFHS organization will be faced with in the coming years? And what are some solutions?
Jackson: There are several obstacles that remain in front of the NFHS. The perception of safety in our sports possibly leading to students declining to participate is among the greatest challenges. We have to continue to write rules and find practical ways to minimize risk in our sports and activities. The staff and our rules committees have done excellent work to address these issues, and we must continue to produce programming that will support the protection of our students. We also must work to communicate all that has been done, and is being done, to minimize risk. All the stakeholders have to be made aware that our sports and activities are safer than they have ever been.
Promoting broad participation in our education-based activities also remains a challenge for us. We know that many students miss out on the great benefits that come with participating in sports and activities at the school level by either choosing to participate in one activity only or choosing not to participate at all due to perceived ideas of safety or unrealistic expectations. Whatever the reason, we must do all we can to produce safe, enjoyable opportunities for middle school and high school students that in turn produce competent and confident young men and women who are ready to fully engage in their community.
The decline in the number of sports officials is another concern facing our Federation. Every state association has experienced the challenge of recruiting and retaining new officials as veteran officials retire. Both the NFHS and the state associations have launched aggressive campaigns targeting specific groups of people to get involved in officiating. An important step in retaining them will be educating everyone involved as to how important they are to our activities and understanding that their primary reason for officiating is the love of sports and of the students who participate in them.
Question: What would you like the legacy of NFHS to be? And what are your dreams and aspirations for the NFHS?
Jackson: I would love to see the NFHS be the driving force that highlights and strengthens the “specialness” of high school sports and activities in our country where communities gather around and support their school’s activities and where students look forward to participating and representing their school teams at an early age.
This will require that the NFHS continue to develop and support opportunities that students can enjoy at the scholastic level and to also continue to promote the minimization of risk in those activities. The NFHS has always made this its mission, and under the leadership of our new Executive Director, Dr. Niehoff, I am confident that it will continue to drive the workings of our organization.
Dr. Darrell Floyd is Superintendent of Schools in Enid, Oklahoma. and is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.