State could seize 2 small school districts but not Jackson

Mississippi Board of Education members will be asked to decide Thursday whether they want the state to take over Jackson and two other school districts under a new process aimed at improving academic performance.

Posted: Dec. 13, 2017 3:38 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Board of Education members will be asked to decide Thursday whether they want the state to take over Jackson and two other school districts under a new process aimed at improving academic performance.

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A committee in November recommended that the board consider placing the Humphrey County, Noxubee County and Jackson schools in a new statewide achievement school district.

State Board of Education Chair Rosemary Aultman is signaling that it's unlikely the board will move to take over Jackson, only about two months after Gov. Phil Bryant rejected a state takeover of Mississippi's second-largest school district. Bryant, instead, opted for a more collaborative approach allowing a local school board to remain in place.

"I think we want to allow the governor's program to move forward," Aultman said. She said the board could reconsider its stance sometime next year if work on improving the 27,000-student Jackson district doesn't show progress.

Under the achievement school district structure, Bryant wouldn't be required to approve board actions, unlike under the board's request to take over Jackson for violating state accrediting standards.

Aultman says the board will more seriously consider folding Humphreys and Noxubee into the achievement school district. She said Noxubee has shown some improvements in test scores, but Humphreys has shown little change.

All three districts made the list because they have had F academic ratings for two straight years, and half or more of their schools are also rated F.

Jeanne Middleton Hairston, who became president of the Jackson school board after all the former board members resigned, argued that new leadership should get a chance in Jackson.

"The achievement school district decision underscores the urgency and seriousness of the challenges facing Jackson Public Schools," she said in a statement to The Associated Press. "I am hopeful that the JPS board will have a continued opportunity to serve and to develop a productive working relationship with the Mississippi Department of Education to achieve the shared goal of providing a world class education for all of our students."

Superintendents in Humphreys and Noxubee counties did not respond to repeated requests for comment this week.

The achievement school district is an attempt to improve the academic performance of long-struggling schools. It could take over schools rated F by the state for two straight years, or any district rated F for two of three years. A school would remain under state control at least until it scores a C rating or better for five years.

The district is supposed to start taking over poorly rated schools next fall. State leaders are also trying to hire a superintendent, and Aultman said members are likely to discuss Thursday whether they are ready. Similar districts have been greeted with protests in other states over loss of local control.

In the separate legal process that allows the state to take control of a local district for violating state rules, Bryant had to declare a state of emergency. That's what he refused to do in October, instead choosing to work with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and the Kellogg Foundation to seek improvements. Those three entities appointed a 15-member commission to seek improvements in the schools.

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