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His goal: To make every child feel safe and supported

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Tad Jacobson

Just call him the Pied Piper of Safford High School.

Yes, that's right. Despite the fact he is the assistant principal at SHS, the man teens have to face when they make mistakes, kids still seek out Tad Jacobson, said his boss, Torey Leitzke. They just adore him and they're all the better for it, she said.

Leitzke first met Jacobson when she taught his oldest son while a fifth grade teacher at Ruth Powell School back in 2008. They got better acquainted when she ended up becoming an administrator at SHS where he was teaching.

At the end of her first year as principal, Leitzke said Jacobson came to her to say he was entertaining the idea of going to Benson to gain experience as an administrator. There were no open administration positions in Safford at the time. She encouraged him to go and promised him that he'd get his shot to come back some day.

It took a few years, but that day came in July 2020. 

Although Jacobson had to go through all of the hoops to become her assistant principal, Leitzke knew he had the personality she was looking for.

"Tad was always known as the guy that kids would flock to, if you will. They're drawn to him because, No. 1, he's a goofball and he's relatable for kids because of that. He has a sense of humor.  He can joke with kids  and they can joke with him," Leitzke said. 

She remembers that as a history teacher, Jacobson would get dressed up and play various roles and the kids would respond.

More importantly, though, Leitzke remembered the many, many times she would ask for Jacobson to have a chat with a student who was struggling and the impact those chats would have on kids. 

Jacobson was always able to get through to kids because he shared things with them, she said.

"He's able to be so open about himself, about when he was a student and what made him learn and grow up," Leitzke said. "That makes him really relatable to kids. He is his true authentic self. He is who he is. He loves the kids who need someone to love them and he's willing to do everything to make sure the kids know he cares about them."

Like her, Jacobson has never thought suspending kids for less than the most serious of infractions made sense and as assistant principal, he's brought in new ideas to try to help kids make better choices. For example, he's brought in the nationally recognized ACCI Lifeskills program, a series of online courses and the results have been impressive.

"The kids view him as an advocate," Leitzke said. "I think the majority of kids know he's in their corner."

Danny Smith has gotten to be friends with Jacobson over the years while coaching youth sports together.

He has always admired Jacobson because he never takes the easy way out when trying to help a child. If he thinks it's the right thing to do, he'll do it, no matter how long it takes, Smith said.

And the kids just naturally trust him, he said.

"He's got a rapport with kids, a way of communicating with them that is fascinating to watch and the kids just love him," Smith said.

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It's true, Jacobson said. He understands some kids because he sees himself in them.

"I learned a lot about discipline from being a really tough student. When I was a kid going to Safford High School I spent a lot of days in the principal's office, the assistant principal's office and all kinds of teachers' classes serving detention because one, I was uncoachable," Jacobson said. "I was pretty immature. I was one of those kids who had to figure out things in my own time and in my own way. I was out to prove everybody and everything wrong, parents included."

His stubbornness continued after high school, too. He quit Eastern Arizona College during his first semester, got married and went to work at Phelps Dodge.

After three years, he came to believe he was in a dead end job. Around the same time, he learned he was going to be a dad.

"I remember thinking to myself, What kind of an example am I going to be to a kid if I don't do what I dream of doing. I can't tell him to chase his dreams if I don't follow my own," Jacobson said.

His dream has always been to coach high school basketball and he'd been volunteer coaching at SHS. When, he saw a co-worker at the mine electrocuted, Jacobson had a heart-to-heart talk with his old basketball coach at the high school.  He also re-took the aptitude test he'd taken half-heartedly in high school. This time, it suggested he'd make a good teacher. 

Before too long, Jacobson went from making $43,000 a year to making $19,000 a year as a checker at Safeway and going to college.

He got his bachelor's degree in secondary education just in time for his 10 year high school reunion.

His first job was teaching science in Fort Thomas. After a few years, he was back in the same school where he'd gotten into so much trouble.

His time in Benson was a huge growth experience for him, Jacobson said. 

He learned a technique where kids solve their own problems. He sits down with the student to talk about their infraction, what got them to that point and how they're going to fix it. 

"You can't believe how far that goes. Kids want to be in charge of their actions, they really do and if you give them a chance to prove they can fix their problems, they will," Jacobson said. "They want to have a voice. Of course it's not 100% successful, but we'll never give up on kids. The last thing I want to do is send them home and shame them or make them think that they're not welcome here."

When he left high school, Jacobson said he can remember distinctly thinking he wished he could have one more year at the school, one more year to try to do things differently. He doesn't his students feeling the same way.

"I want all of the kids who went to school here to love and enjoy and cherish it," Jacobson said. "Because of my experiences, I want them to learn and not have those regrets I had when I left. I want them to get involved as freshmen and sophomores and start trusting their leaders, their coaches."

His goal as an administrator isn't much different than his goal was as a teacher.

"I took a lot of pride in being the teacher that the kids could come to and talk to. I wanted to build those relationships with kids," Jacobson said. "I wanted them to go to Mr. Jacobson's classroom and think it was the best part of their day. That was my goal. Now I want them to learn, 'I've got an ally.' I want them to feel like 'the adults are here for me and Mr. Jacobson's looking out for my best interests at all times.'"

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