Andrew Jackson will have the honor of being the first principal to preside over Horizon High School’s first graduation. The Bridgewater Middle principal was appointed to the top position at the new high school earlier this month, and he assumes the position from Laura Beusse, who is retiring at the end of the semester.
“High school was always a dream,” Jackson said. “Seeing kids graduate; knowing they’re going off to college, a career, military; watching them grow from kids to adults — that’s a transition that can’t be replicated. It’s band, Friday nights, water polo and tennis and golf and other levels don’t get to offer. You get to see kids in their element more so at that level.”
He released a message to his students and families of Bridgewater thanking them for the opportunity to serve for four-and-one-half years.
“My time at Bridgewater has been a story book experience filled with love, laughter and tears, but as with all great books, a new chapter is inevitable,” he wrote.
Jackson’s new chapter at Horizon High begins Jan. 3. Prior to Bridgewater, he spent 20 years at the high school level, starting with West Orange High — from which he graduated in the early 1990s — and rising through the ranks from teacher to dean to assistant principal.
“I’m looking forward to the relationships,” he said. “Education is what we do, but we’re really in the people business. You try to get however many teachers and staff there working toward the same vision, which is to teach students.”
At Horizon High, Jackson will have the opportunity to work alongside people with whom he previously worked, including Wendy Cartwright, Glenda Hammonds, Wessal Kenaio, Anthony Russell and Craig Smith. Many of them also were at West Orange.
He’s excited to grow the culture that Beusse started and is ready to build relationships with his team and his students. He said one of his mentors, Mike Armbruster, a retired Orange County Public Schools educator, instilled the idea of creating a culture at each school he leads — giving students a sense of belonging and giving them something that is uniquely theirs.
Jackson began his OCPS career in 1997 when he was hired by Armbruster, then the WOHS principal, to teach ESE English. He also taught a program called Compact, that was intended to support students who had serious struggles in life, such as living in foster care or witnessing the death of a family member.
“The intention was to teach them life skills and decision-making skills and set them up with mentors,” he said.
Jackson also taught social studies, economics and world history; was an academic dean for almost three years; and became the assistant principal of instruction in 2007. He left in 2014 for Osceola High, a job he said probably accelerated his career.
He returned to West Orange County when he accepted the principal’s position at Bridgewater Middle in 2017.
“This is my 25th year in education, and it’s gone by unbelievably fast, and I look back and think I’m still a 22-year-old teaching,” he said.
Jackson holds a master’s degree in education leadership. He said he originally sought the degree because he loved learning, but it certainly has pushed him forward in his career.
“I’m humbled, and I’m shocked,” he said.
But, he added, he feels he is well prepared for the transition from middle school to high school.
“Bridgewater is an absolutely magical school that has phenomenal students and a great supportive community,” Jackson said. “I’m excited that I’m going to be able to continue to serve this community, the Horizon West area, and a lot of the Bridgewater kids will go there. I’m excited about the next step in my career. And I’m excited to lead a high school. It will be a challenge, but it will be magical and all the hard work won’t feel like hard work.
“Good things keep happening, so I just keep trying to pay it forward,” he said.