A radical mayor and a conservative governor team up to help JPS

November 2, 2017 in Education

By Othor Cain,




JPS Logo (color w-slogan)In what one would normally call a “strangeor unusual partnership,” Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba are on one accord when it comes to providing help for the more than 27,000 students in the Jackson Public Schools District.

Last week both the mayor and governor announced a third innovative state and city collaboration option, as a response to the Mississippi Department of Education’s declaration that a state of emergency existed within JPS and a need for a state takeover was in order.

Lumumba standing on the steps of City Hall and Bryant via a press release announced the Better Together initiative. This initiative will bring together education experts both in and out of state, JPS parents, community members, the Education Commission of the States, the Kellogg Foundation and the Mississippi Economic Council to craft a plan for revitalizing JPS. “This isn’t an option to save JPS, but rather an opportunity to work with JPS for improvement,” Lumumba said.

JPS will maintain local control, but during this process, a request for proposal will be offered for an expert to do a full analysis of the district. As part of this collaboration, all current board of trustee members for JPS resigned their positions. “We’ve accepted their resignations not as an indictment on anyone, but as a step towards pushing this initiative forward,” Lumumba said.

One board member who has served less than three months could possibly be reappointed. “We are weighing all of our options and we are not afraid to make the tough decisions,” Lumumba said.

The Kellogg Foundation is one of the driving forces behind this new collaboration. Rhea Williams-Bishop is the executive director for the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. “We had been working on a similar initiative with JPS and we are excited to get behind this movement,” she said. “It is paramount to us that we have a community buy in and that we are goal specific and outcome driven.”

The state report card, while giving JPS an overall failing grade, found some schools to be among the best in the state. JPS’s Davis Magnet Elementary School was rated No. 1 of all the elementary and middle public schools statewide. Baker Elementary also rated an A. Of the seven elementary schools rated F, most have been highly rated in the past.

Middle and high schools are another matter. With the exception of A- or B-rated Bailey APAC, Northwest Middle School and Power APAC, all other middle schools received a D or F rating. And every high school received a D or F.

During a special council meeting this week, where the council approved a memorandum of understanding between all parties involved with this collaboration, Lumumba stressed the importance of not coming across as if the city had all of the answers. “We want to be very clear that this is only phase one and we don’t know everything, we are not the experts,” he said. “In order for this to work we need all hands on deck.”

A 15 member project commission is expected to be named this week and Lumumba expects to name at least four school board members next week.