Special to The Mississippi Link,
Tuesday, December 17, 2019, I introduced a plan to redesign our current school structure to the JPS Board of Trustees. This plan proposes fewer schools, allowing financial resources to be focused where they belong – on our scholars. The future of our city and its workforce is at stake, and our school district is at a turning point.
The school redesign plan, entitled Optimizing for Equity, builds upon the district’s five-year strategic plan released early in 2019, which outlines five key commitments the district has made to scholars and families. These commitments are guiding all of our decisions and actions, including the decision to redesign our schools. Our leadership team relied heavily on information gathered through our ongoing community engagement activities and data from a recent enrollment study conducted by Education Resource Strategies to develop the school redesign plan, which calls for the following:
Repurposing of Van Winkle Elementary School into a school exclusively for pre-kindergarten scholars;
Closure of Barr Elementary School;
Consolidation of Hardy Middle School with a newer and updated Blackburn Middle School; repurpose Hardy Middle School into a sports athletic complex;
Consolidation of Siwell Middle School with a newer and updated Cardozo Middle School;
Repurposing of Rowan as a District Teaching and Learning Center; and
Launch of a community taskforce to develop a long-term plan to strengthen schools in the Lanier High School feeder pattern.
The plan was presented to the board for action at a meeting January 7, 2020.
Some of the proposed changes are based on a hard truth: we need fewer schools because we have fewer scholars. Jackson Public Schools has experienced a 20 percent enrollment decline over the past 10 years. By consolidating to match our current enrollment, every remaining school building will be better equipped to provide a high-quality education for all students, while operating in a much more fiscally responsible and efficient manner. Fewer schools will mean fewer dollars spent on maintaining buildings and more dollars spent on learning.
The decision to close any school is difficult. We are sensitive to the fact that schools anchor communities in many ways, providing sanctuaries for our scholars and families and supporting our neighborhoods. Our plan calls for some closed buildings to be repurposed and remain as assets in their neighborhoods. We have engaged parents and stakeholders every step of the way and will continue to do so, because all of us – together –must contribute to and stand as one in support of this plan.
When the redesign process is complete, many of our scholars will move to schools in much better physical condition than the buildings they are in now. Our schools will have more stable staffing and the support necessary for great teaching and learning, including standards-aligned, culturally responsive instruction. Scholars will have safe and equitable access to great schools with increased program offerings regardless of their zip code, and schools will benefit from partnerships that will leverage community resources to drive student success.
Great success is impossible without change. We ask for the support of parents and guardians, community leaders, faith leaders, elected officials, corporate and other partners as we champion educational excellence. Our district exists to serve Jackson scholars and families, and our commitment is stronger than ever.
Errick L. Greene, Ed.D.
The redesign plan passed at the board meeting, Jan. 7.