The JPS Situation: Question #1
September 14, 2017
How Does It Affect Our Kids and Families—and Their Community?
That’s what I’m supposed to think about and to act on here. In fact, when we at Operation Shoestring are thinking about doing anything, it’s first in terms of how it affects the children and families we serve. Makes sense, right?
Well, that’s what I’m thinking hard about right now as Jackson Public Schools—and the City of Jackson—wrestles to maintain control over its own affairs in the wake of the MS Dept. of Education’s declaration of a state of emergency in JPS as a result of concerns about student safety and educational outcomes.
I’ve been encouraged over the last six months or so by the steps JPS leadership has taken to address many of its problems to help yield better outcomes for kids. They’ve reorganized the district, made many staff changes and, in my dealings with them, have been incredibly transparent and responsive.
Clearly, though, MDE wasn’t impressed enough by these recent efforts. MDE’s justification for the takeover, and it’s hard to argue with them based on the evidence presented, seems to be that, yeah, JPS may be doing some things to improve the situation but, generally, there doesn’t seem to be enough concrete evidence that things are getting better fast enough.
I’ve got serious heartburn about this, and I want to share why. I acknowledge that there are enormous challenges in JPS that directly affect the well-being of the kids and families the district serves. I think those challenges are chiefly a result of ineffective leadership on many levels…for decades. But, let’s be honest, JPS’s safety and educational outcomes issues aren’t just affected by ineffective leadership. JPS is reckoning with decades of systematic disinvestment in it and its community. On top of that, JPS has to cope with extremely high rates of family poverty among its students, a declining tax base which affects school funding and, correspondingly, aging and dilapidated capital infrastructure. In short, the odds have been stacked against them for a while.
Without a doubt, though, we must do better by Jackson’s children. The question is how do we do that without perpetuating the things that led to disinvestment in Jackson’s children? How do we ensure that Jacksonians are empowered with the resources and ability to use those resources to best serve Jackson’s children? And by we, I mean nonprofits, congregations, businesses, parents, policymakers and policy implementers—all of us.
I urge you to think hard about how we, with all of Jackson’s challenges and opportunities, ensure that we can build a school system and a community that keep children safe and provide them a top-quality education so they can realize their dreams and potential.
We all rise together.