Jackie Gilchrist knows Spring ISD. The Westfield High School Campus Technology Specialist – and Westfield graduate – has seen the district in good times and bad, through highs and lows, and understands, often from her own personal experience, the challenges its students face. Through it all, she continues to believe in Spring ISD and its mission to serve its students – in whom she sees a lot of herself as a young person.
“I’ve been here since 1990, worked here for 19 years, my mother-in-law works here, I met my husband here,” said Gilchrist, reflecting on decades spent as a student and then staff member in the district. “I say that I basically have Spring ISD running through my veins. That’s how I feel.”
Gilchrist grew up on the district’s southwest side, attending Link Elementary School and Wells Middle School and graduating from Westfield High School. She met her husband – who attended Spring High School – when the two were still teenagers.
As the district’s only two high schools at that time, the rivalry between the schools was fierce, and Gilchrist jokes that their campus-crossed romance had a touch of scandal to it among their friends – like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet falling in love, despite their families’ differences. Sometimes, Gilchrist admitted, she still pulls out her old Westfield jacket to tease her husband, especially when the Mustangs are on a winning streak.
Gilchrist got her start in the Technology department as a high school student intern, and did much of her early training with Carl Wunsche Sr. High School CTE Teacher Lisa Evans, who is still at the school.
Having developed her critical-thinking, creativity, and leadership skills at Westfield, Gilchrist took naturally to the apprenticeship model of learning and doing while working as a Technology intern, and proved so capable that she ended up being offered a position with the department when she graduated.
“I just love fixing things, and I like seeing the immediate outcome of helping people,” Gilchrist said. “Learning through work, being trained by everyone and being encouraged by people, it really builds your confidence.”
As a woman in the technology field, that confidence has proved vital, especially in Gilchrist’s earlier years in the job, when others weren’t always quick to take her seriously. Even now, she says it’s disappointingly rare to see girls opt for technology internships and careers in tech, and one of her great pleasures now – in addition to the joy she gets from passing on her know-how and technical acumen – is helping encourage the next generation of young women to follow their passions.
“Every year we have interns, and it’s rare to see a girl,” said Gilchrist. “So whenever there is that girl that I train, I can’t help but put a little bit extra ‘oomph’ into telling them, ‘You can do it!’”
Having reached the point in her own career where she feels respected as a technology professional, Gilchrist knows that – much like Evans was to her as a student intern – she now represents women in technology to the students who might someday follow in her footsteps.
“You’ve just got to keep your head up, and let your work speak for you, you know?” Gilchrist says, as she explains her advice to girls interested in tech careers. “If they doubt your knowledge, show them through your work that you know what you’re talking about.”
Gilchrist knows a lot about keeping her head up and pursuing her goals no matter what, and she tries to encourage that same drive in the students she encounters in her work, some of whom she knows come from challenging circumstances. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Gilchrist understands what it’s like growing up in a poor household, with parents who are doing their best to give the world to their children while often struggling to make ends meet.
After Gilchrist’s father and mother came to the U.S. from Mexico, her father worked as a carpenter, and Gilchrist still remembers, growing up in their single-income household, overhearing her parents talking about money. She still remembers not being able to bring herself to ask her parents for the $8 needed for her to join the Spanish National Honor Society when she was a student at Westfield.
Those memories can be hard to revisit sometimes – including the time when Gilchrist was in sixth grade and the family was selected to receive Christmas donations from the district – but she said those memories have also made her the person she is today.
“Definitely, the way I grew up has shaped who I am,” Gilchrist said. “How I took growing up in a low-income home was, you do not take things for granted.”
These days, she tries to live with that mindset, both in her professional and personal life. As soon as she had a little money to spare, Gilchrist started participating in her department’s holiday donation drive. She’s quick to look for ways to help family and friends when she can, saying that even a little bit can often help, especially when people combine their efforts.
“I just know how it feels, and if I can help, I want to help,” Gilchrist said, “because I’ve been in the trenches before. When I help people, sometimes I just imagine little Jackie down in that trench, and that stranger holding out that hand and pulling you up. I want to be that for someone, so that’s how I live my life.”
Before a recent Spring ISD Success Walk, Gilchrist shared some of her own story with attendees. She talked about the importance of never giving up on kids, and helping all students to succeed. As a product of the district herself, and now a longtime Spring ISD employee, she was the perfect person to help get volunteers inspired before going out into the neighborhoods to talk with young people in the community about the importance of staying in school.
“Spring has helped me professionally and personally in my life, and I want to pay that back, you know?” Gilchrist said. “My heart’s here.”