JPS Key Communicator - Special Edition
JPS MUST AND WILL SUCCEED
An Editorial by JPS Interim Superintendent Dr. Freddrick Murray

FEBRUARY 14, 2017

Let me begin by thanking the Board of Trustees for giving me the distinct honor and privilege of serving as interim superintendent for Jackson Public Schools. Since my term began November 17, 2016, I have had the pleasure of meeting with various stakeholders across the Jackson metro area. I have met and spoken with numerous parents, students, teachers, administrators, adopters, lawmakers, and concerned citizens. Among our constituents, there has been one constant sentiment- JPS must and will succeed.

The outpouring of good will for Jackson Public Schools is phenomenal. It is evident by the numerous former and current Board members, students, teachers and administrators anxious to lend their support. I have received over 100 phone calls from citizens asking what they can do to re-engage the community to support our school district. I encourage all citizens with an interest in supporting Jackson Public Schools to reach out to the District. We value your contributions.

Our primary goals are to ensure the District moves from probation to accredited status and to improve the District's performance rating. To restore our accreditation status, the District is implementing the Corrective Action Plan with fidelity and preparing schools to meet the standards required by the Mississippi Department of Education investigative audits. In order to have a successful District, we have to have successful schools. Therefore, we continue to focus on improving the academic performance of all schools; especially the D and F schools. We will do this by executing instructional support and rapid response teams.

There are some great things happening in our District. According to MDE, our high school graduation rate is on the rise. It has risen from 67.7 percent in the 2014-2015 school year to 70.2 percent in the 2015-2016 school year. Fewer students are dropping out of our schools as indicated in MDE's recent report, which reflects a decrease in the District's dropout rate from 21.3 percent in the 2014-2015 school year to 18.3 percent in the 2015-2016 school year.

Baker Elementary School achieved the highest growth in reading statewide among the lowest 25 percent of elementary students, and Davis IB achieved the highest reading proficiency among elementary students in the state. We must and will do a better job of sharing and executing the academic strategies in our high performing schools with other schools that continue to struggle.

State Superintendent Dr. Carey Wright explained to the Board and myself at the December 20, 2016, Board meeting that the District must show a sense of urgency as it relates to our probationary status and F rating as a District. We take that seriously and have made deliberate efforts to ensure that all of our staff understand where we were, where we are, and where we must go. In doing so, we inspect what we expect and hold everyone accountable.

The Mississippi Department of Education voted to approve the CAP for JPS on December 15, 2016. The CAP is designed to help us improve schools and will require the support of every employee and stakeholder. We acknowledge the serious nature of the concerns at some of our schools and are committed to working with MDE to resolve them. The revised plan contains more specifics, such as clearly defined timelines for taking action to resolve the issues uncovered during MDE audits. As we carry out the approved plan, the Mississippi Department of Education will continue to monitor our progress. So far, we have seen significant improvements in several areas of the District. Many of the concerns were in the areas of transportation, safety, records, facilities, and curriculum and instruction. Our accomplishments thus far include the following:
  • The Transportation Department has received and installed 200 GPS devices on the District's buses. This new technology has enhanced our ability to improve routes, safety and accessibility. Four new buses have been added to our fleet to improve timeliness of the morning pickup and afternoon drop off. We have removed vehicles that were not in compliance from the fleet and correctly identified those with deficiencies before they were placed back on a route.
  • The Office of Records has completed its review and assessment of 1,342 out of 1,488 graduate records from the 2015-2016 school year.  These assessed records now meet District and state guidelines for proper maintenance of student records.  We are also on schedule for evaluating the records of current (2016-2017) seniors.  
  • Campus Enforcement safety officers now meet the employment requirements for mandated training by MDE. Every school has an updated Crisis Response Plan. All required emergency drills and forms have been placed on the District's internal website. That will allow for ease of access and submission. All middle and high schools have been provided two-way radios to communicate more efficiently during an emergency. Metal detectors have been replaced or upgraded and our safety personnel have received training on the new equipment. Video surveillance is also being updated.
  • The Facilities and Operations Department has inspected fire extinguishers at all 61 school sites to ensure they are in compliance. Out of the 1,779 fire extinguishers at school sites, 1,214 have been replaced with new ones. Seating capacity signs have been installed for auditoriums, gymnasiums and lunchrooms in all school buildings. Smoke alarms are in all portable classrooms. Maps have been provided to Campus Enforcement for all facilities for evacuation plans. A campus map identifying main utility shutoffs have been placed in the main front office of each school. Second means of emergency exit decals have been placed on all exits. Asbestos management plans are available at school sites. Two marked parking spaces have been created for visitors at all schools. Designated handicap parking is visible at all JPS sites. New decals and striped parking lots have been added where needed.
  •  A Board approved instructional management plan is being utilized throughout the District to enhance instructional practices by teachers and staff thereby helping to create a system of high-quality schools and improving student academic performance.
We are also researching ways to improve District operations for efficiency. We are merging approximately 50 remaining students at Rowan Middle School to Brinkley Middle School next school year. Rowan will become a full-time location for Re-engaging in Education for All to Progress, also known as R.E.A.P. The program is an alternative path to a high school diploma for students at risk of dropping out of school. A decrease in funding and decline in student population has led the District to study the possibility of consolidating some of our schools. We feel confident that we will reach a solution that is suitable to meet the needs of our students and workforce.

The Jackson Public School District belongs to the citizens of Jackson, Mississippi. We know as a community, if we want it to remain that way, then we have to do the work, and do it well. Greatness is constructed one brick at a time. Building great communities takes the persistent effort of its members united in that purpose. Together, we will continue building stronger schools to improve the lives of our students through a solid foundation of dedicated educators, administrators, staff, parents and students.