District has until Nov 1 to make improvements
By Othor Cain
Monday, May 21, proved to be a very busy day for officials within the Jackson Public Schools District. Board members called a 9 a.m. special meeting for the approval of the new superintendent’s contract.
Dr. Cedrick Gray, superintendent for the Fayette County Tennessee school district, signed a contract with JPS for $200,000 annually with provisions that offer raises up to $5,000 each year. Gray’s contract runs from July 1, 2012 until June 30, 2015. Gray was chosen out of a pool of 71 applicants.
The next stop on this busy day was a 10 a.m. hearing on the district’s accreditation status. JPS, according to the Mississippi Department of Education, has had about 17 months to clear up problems related to special education that put the district at risk of losing its accreditation.
After almost 15 hours of testimony that included only two witnesses for JPS, the panel on school accreditation in the end decided to give Mississippi’s second largest district six more months to fix its problems or lose its accreditation status. If the district doesn’t fully comply with federal special education regulations, by Nov. 1, there won’t be another hearing; the district’s accreditation will be withdrawn.
Dr. Jayne Sargent, who serves as the district’s interim chief of schools, made a heart-felt plea before the commission. “I just don’t want you to think that we aren’t working towards resolving these issues, because we are,” she said. “I’m not here to make excuses or to argue that we haven’t done all of what we were suppose to do because we haven’t but we are making strides and our children have always been and will always be our top priority.”
After learning that the commission had given the district more time based on her self-imposed deadline Sargent was elated. “We are absolutely thrilled with the commission’s response to our request,” she said. “We could not be happier. We will live up to their expectations in planning instruction for children, involving parents in their children’s education and in providing monthly reports to the commission and any other documents that they request. We thank the commission members individually and collectively.”
The board of commissioners wanted to allow time for the district to correct its problems under its new administration. “The idea was to allow the district’s new administration time to get acclimated with the district and to correct those problems,” said commission member Susan Burchfield.
With almost 30,000 students, JPS is the second largest district in the state, its problems of accreditation dates back to 2010 because of its special education department.
Editor’s note: Next week The Mississippi Link will give an in-depth report on the rezoning taking place within JPS. We have a one-on-one with Eric Stringfellow, who was hired to serve as the district’s spokesperson for rezoning.