Wednesday, September 27, 2017
You may have heard recently in the local news that Jackson Public Schools are in an "extreme emergency." When stat auditors came into the schools, they saw teachers not teaching, students in the halls, and found records had not been handled properly; students graduated without meeting the basic requirements; Forest Hill High School was too dangerous for them to enter and complete an audit.
What you didn't see in the local news is that Murrah announced three National Merit semi-finalists last week and graduated 10 AP Scholars in May. The Federal Emergency Management Agency selected Ruben M. Banks, a junior JROTC cadet at Jim Hill High School, for its 15-member Youth Preparedness Council. Five JPS schools ranked in the 90th percentile of MAP-testing results in the state. This information was most certainly not mentioned in the Mississippi Department of Education's audit report. While most reasonable audits would include positive and negative results, it seems that MDE was only looking for and reporting the negatives.
JPS has been under scrutiny for 18 months, and I would not claim that the district does not need major improvements. I'm a teacher at Murrah High School, and I know that to be true.
But is JPS in such bad shape that the state should take control and shut out the people of Jackson from the process of improvement?
Absolutely not. Our interim superintendent has worked diligently in less than a year to address the standards that the MDE's reports have said the district is not following. A dynamic new mayor just took office and was about to name three new members to the local school board. JPS was on the precipice of major improvements that those who live and work in the city of Jackson, and whose children attend our schools, decided on.
Momentum was on the district's side, and a takeover immediately kills it, with no reason to believe the state can do better. Isn't the district more equipped than people who live in the suburbs and probably wouldn't be willing to visit any of our high schools? JPS employees and citizens have more "skin in the game" than people outside the district.
The discussion and voting from people who never even pretended to read the JPS response to the audit happened behind closed doors. Except for three people, they never even asked a question. If the situation is so dire, would such shady practices be necessary to declare the emergency? Wouldn't it have been more helpful to JPS and its students to hold an honest and open audit? Why didn't it happen that way?
The reasons the JPS takeover is a bad idea.
There is so much I could say about racism and poverty, critical underfunding of all districts by our sate, state tests and testing companies that are unreliable, and an accountability model that requires 14 schools to be F schools, regardless of results. But my focus is on my students. Some of them think their diplomas won't be valid, or that they will have to do a year of remediation before they can go to college. Some are scared of losing their sports and clubs, the very things that make school meaningful to them.
Worst of all, I see students who believe what MDE and the news says about them—that they are failures, that they are dangerous, that they aren't going to make it in life. As high-school students, they are old enough to hear what is being said and take it to heart. Because those who conducted the audit were never interested in what JPS does right, and they were too busy seeing scary inner-city high-school students to see them for the wonderful people they are. How could a process that does this to students be good for Jackson or good for Mississippi?
Lynne Schneider is a teacher at Murrah High School. Read more about the JPS takeover attempt at jfp.ms/jpstakeover.