JPS rezoning essentially is restructuring

Eric Stringfellow, right, answers questions during an interview with Managing Editor Othor Cain. PHOTO BY GAIL M. BROWN

Stringfellow says operating JPS as it is now is wasteful

By Othor Cain

Managing Editor

Hired to help craft a message about the rezoning that is scheduled to be implemented at the beginning of the next school year, Eric Stringfellow admits it was a tough sell but it was necessary. “The way the district has been operating for years is inefficiency at its worst”, Stringfellow said. “The changes had to be made in order for the district to survive.”

Eric Stringfellow, right, answers questions during an interview with Managing Editor Othor Cain. PHOTO BY GAIL M. BROWN

Stringfellow pointed out one of the most obvious budgetary concern, a concern that created a rift among faculty, students, parents and the district. “When you look at Bailey Magnet High School, which is going to be transformed back to its original design as a junior high (middle school), nowhere else in any school district will you find two high schools that close together with that type of teacher/student ratio,” he said. “At Murrah you have 1,500 students, at Bailey you have less than 500 students.”

The student/teacher ratio dips to even more alarming numbers at an area elementary school that will not reopen in the fall.  At Bradley, there were only nine teachers with less than 200 students. Two other elementary schools, Dawson and Johnson, are less than five minutes away. “We can’t afford to operate like this and what Dr. Sargent did was very creative in terms of combining programs and eliminating waste with hopes of avoiding losing any teachers,” Stringfellow said. “We hopefully will see the benefits of this structure within the next year or so.”

Stringfellow said specialty programs like the Montessori, APAC and IB would shift to one school respectively, freeing up space particularly in south Jackson. “We are seeing increased growth in south Jackson that is one of the reasons for pushing these programs north,” Stringfellow said. “More residential developments are popping up all the time.”

Transforming Bailey into an APAC school with those 6-8th graders coming from Powell, Chastain and Peoples creates an APAC corridor with Power Elementary and Murrah High Schools.  There are currently 40 students at Forest Hill in the APAC program that will transfer to Murrah.

The Montessori program that is currently housed at Van Winkle will shift to McWillie, essentially making it the largest elementary school in the district with roughly more than 400 students. The IB program for middle school students is slated to shift to Northwest Middle School, taking in students from Siwell Middle School. “Dr. Sargent wanted to make sure all the programs were saved and no teachers lost their jobs,” Stingfellow said.

In recent reports, the school board has approved cutting 88 jobs that includes 30 elementary instructional assistants; 26 safety officers; 24 library assistants; four hall monitors; three operations facilities staffers and one physical education assistant.

Additionally, 83 teachers resigned, 71 not asked back – five whose performance was unsatisfactory and 66 who did not renew their teaching licenses on time.

At a recent meeting with the Parents for Public Schools, Sargent expressed her woes. “We are in bad financial shape,” she told the group gathered at the Jackson Medical Mall. “Had I known how bad it really was, I don’t think I would have come out of retirement. We’ve got to save this district, save our children and essentially save this city.”

When asked about transportation costs with these changes, Stringfellow said that had to be a strong consideration. “The district had to factor that into the equation, otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense,” he said. “We’ve got to cut costs at every level and maintain our high performance levels.”

Stringfellow said there is another elephant that JPS must deal with. “JPS must not only compete with other public school districts within the metro and across the state but it must become competitive with the private schools on the other side of the freeway,” Stringfellow said.

“We must compete for those middle class black students that are in private schools in Jackson, you would be surprised by the high number of black students they have.”

This is the district’s first comprehensive rezoning plan in almost 30 years and Stringfellow said he understands the reaction. “The reaction from parents and students was no surprise; we anticipated that,” he said. “But we have to look at the bigger picture: there was never going to be the right time to do this…some people were going to be hurt more than others, and we are working on that.”

Stringfellow said the district could possibly have a prom, yearbook, homecoming or some type of graduation ceremony for those soon to be seniors from Bailey. “We recognize how painful this was for them.”

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