JPS remains hopeful, continues focus on academic achievement

October 18, 2017 in Education

By Dr. Freddrick Murray,

Interim Superintendent JPS,

Commentary,

A cloud of uncertainty hangs over Jackson Public Schools, the second largest school district in the state of Mississippi with nearly 27,000 students. While the district is hopeful, it is pensive as it awaits a decision from Governor Phil Bryant regarding a state of emergency declaration that would allow a takeover by the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE).

During JPS’s meeting with the Accreditation Commission September 13, MDE officials indicated that preliminary 2016-17 results show that JPS will be classified as an “F” district regardless of revised cut scores. JPS was also classified as an “F” district in the 2015-16 school year. According to state law, any public school in a district that is labeled an “F” for two consecutive school years, could become part of the Mississippi Achievement School District.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve final accountability letter grades for schools and districts October 19. The governor has stated that the state’s accountability rating will likely play a role in his decision.

There are many variables that have plagued Jackson Public Schools for many years such as the impacts of poverty, decreases in funding, and a nationwide shortage of certified teachers. Former leadership decisions that led to the elimination of professional development and other instructional supports for teachers over the past several years have taken a tremendous toll on the district’s ability to succeed. However, I am confident the systems, processes and procedures we have put in place will turn our district around.

Despite the impending “F” rating, Jackson Public Schools has many successes. According to data published by MDE from the 2016-17 school year, JPS experienced a slight increase across grade levels in both mathematics and English/Language Arts. The largest total point increase is in mathematics with 16.5 points more than the previous school year and in English/Language Arts with 8.54 points more than the previous school year. During the past five years, the district’s graduation rate increased by 6.1 points from 64.1 percent in 2011 to 70.2 percent in 2016. Districtwide, 88 percent of 2,327 third-graders passed the initial administration of the 3rd Grade Reading Assessment in April 2017 and 94 percent passed the test after the final administration in July 2017.

The state accountability results based on the tests administered in April 2017 does not reflect many of the recent initiatives of the current JPS administration. We have put several innovative systems in place to improve academic performance. In less than a full academic school year, the district has implemented a board approved Instructional Management System, restructured the district into four areas with dedicated assistant superintendents serving each area, and hired fourteen new principals in spite of the challenges to recruitment that a pending takeover imposes.

The district also has consolidated two elementary schools, repurposed a middle school into a program for overaged and under-credited students, created a compliance department to monitor the execution of corrective actions, created academic supports through curriculum based programs and professional development, and hired mentors to support teachers with less than three years of classroom experience. It is clear that JPS is correcting areas where improvements are necessary.

Jackson Public Schools remains hopeful that the governor and the State Board of Education will collaborate with the district to improve academic achievement and compliance with state standards.

True sustainable success does not happen without hard work and a clearly outlined plan. That is why the district has reached out to several partners for support. One example is the partnership with the Council of the Great City Schools, a national organization with a proven track record in assisting urban districts across the country in making transformational improvements.

Just recently, JPS announced the opening of the state’s first student-run credit union on the campus of Provine High School in partnership with Hope Credit Union. It will further assist us in ensuring our scholars are prepared for college and careers when they graduate. This is an example of the innovative practices designed toward our goal of providing rigor and relevance to our students’ education program.

With the support of our parents, students, employees, City of Jackson, local businesses and community partners, Jackson Public Schools will experience the kind of growth and success that our students and city deserve.