Let me begin by saying, what an honor it has been to serve the citizens, parents and students of Jackson as superintendent. I thank the Board of Trustees for giving me the opportunity to become lead teacher for Jackson Public Schools. Jackson has some of the best students and educators in the country.
Upon my arrival to Jackson in 2012, the headlines for the district read, “JPS is Broke!” and “JPS Placed on Probation.” JPS was disputing with the city of Jackson over ad valorem taxes and addressing concerns with the bus drivers for a raise in pay. We were operating with a below functional fund balance, or rainy day fund, while struggling with the perception of a top-heavy central office. In the time that I have been here, I am proud that we reduced central office personnel by 5 percent and increased the fund balance from $3.5 million to $15.1 million. We also lifted the district from the threat of lawsuit by completing the Corrective Action Plan, which was created to remove the district off probation for violations in how scholars with special needs are educated.
Bus transportation was also a huge challenge, but we met it with resolve and a solid plan. Our buses are much closer to being on time now despite transporting scholars to special programs across town every morning and afternoon. This was achieved without outsourcing our transportation services. We have increased major partnerships to include Alignment Jackson, Hope Community Credit Union, Rickey Smiley Foundation, Kellogg Foundation and many, many more. This is attributed to strategic planning and through building trust and relationships that have improved the educational opportunities of our city’s children.
I, like many others, am disappointed that our district is currently labeled F. We were only 16 points from a D. It is promising that our scores went up and not down. However, the cut scores for an A letter grade were lowered and the cut scores for F were raised by the Mississippi Department of Education for all school districts across the state. In 2014, we had 17 F schools and reduced them to two. We still have the top-rated elementary and middle schools in the state of Mississippi. The governor and state superintendent both agree that it is not fair to be punitive about a test result after the first time taking the test.
Another major challenge for Jackson Public Schools is charter schools that are also struggling academically to meet the state’s new testing standards. Their D and F letter grades reflect the same academic challenges as many other public schools across the state of Mississippi.
Over the last three years, we have increased the graduation rate and lowered the dropout rate. In the Hechinger report from Oct. 27, Dr. Andre Perry indicated that JPS has a high poverty rate and has been under-funded for years. According to the writer, JPS has battled underfunding but has still done more with less.
Graduation rates increased almost 3.5 percent in one year. Attendance increased while discipline violations decreased for high school freshmen. Third grade proficiency rates increased 8 percent in one year. During my tenure, there were many accomplishments.
We migrated the district’s email to the cloud by utilizing Microsoft Office 365 at a significant cost savings, which eliminated mailbox size restrictions for teachers and principals. We launched the district to its first-ever 1:1 digital initiative, in which all ninth-grade high school students in JPS were given access to a laptop computer.
We hired more than 500 certified teachers, implemented an automated substitute teacher placement process, eliminated long lines and waiting by launching online registration, increased the district’s fund balance by nearly 50 percent and implemented a new website at the district and school levels. As a leader, I expect and am accustomed to public criticism, but I admit it is disheartening when a group of misinformed individuals use social and traditional media to spread gossip, rumors and lies about the work of our amazing students, brilliant educators and dedicated administrators.
Despite the recent audits by MDE and poor academic rating, I have had three successful evaluations and had just received a contract extension. Additionally, we were poised to both clear the audit and make the grade in the spring. With support from the U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. and national relationships brought forth through the National Association of School Superintendents as Superintendent of the Year, we were destined for greatness.
I love the city of Jackson, Jackson Public Schools and its 175,000 plus citizens. I have been blessed to contribute to this wonderful community. I am confident JPS will win and pray for all those who labor in the vineyard for its success.
Cedrick Gray, Ed.D. Superintendent