Public Schools

Midtown Charter School fails to lease JPS building


JPS denies Midtown Charter School lease of unused building

Following a failed attempt to lease a building from the Jackson Public School District, Midtown Public Charter School will relocate out of the Midtown neighborhood to a building near the intersection of Northside Drive and I-55 for the upcoming school year.

The Charter School Authorizer Board approved the move on Tuesday.

Midtown Public, first opened in 2015, currently serves 240 students in grades 5-8, according to the Mississippi Department of Education. Midtown Partners, the operators of the charter school, attempted to rent Rowan Middle School, which was closed in 2017. The building briefly housed an alternate GED program, but has been unoccupied for multiple years.

Charter schools are free that do not report to a school board, like traditional public schools do. Instead, they are governed by the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. These schools are controversial among traditional public school supporters because they have more flexibility for teachers and administrators when it comes to student instruction, and are funded by local school districts based on enrollment.

This was the point of contention among JPS supporters and officials. This school year alone, JPS has paid $888,747.60 to the school. If the district allowed Midtown to lease one of its unused buildings, it could recoup funds with the rent and repairs the charter school was willing to make. But the reason Midtown proposed a move at all was to expand enrollment, meaning ultimately JPS would be paying the school more money in future school years.

JPS school board members raised a number of concerns with the proposed lease when it was presented at a board meeting on April 5, including the amount of the rent payments and the processes of maintenance repairs and possible reauthorization of the lease.

The charter school would have paid $78,000 a year in the lease and approximately $115,000 in proposed repairs. Some board members pushed for a higher lease amount, but state law prohibits public school districts from charging above the market value of the property.

There was also a discussion among board members about the broader merits of the charter school system, which Superintendent Errick Greene said should not be conflated with the issue of the lease at hand.

“Whether Midtown, the charter school, should exist or not, should operate in Jackson, Mississippi or not, that’s a worthy discussion and an issue that I’m sure is ripe for some larger movement and lobbying around the law that allows it to be,” Greene said. “We find ourselves in a situation where we have a number of buildings that are shuttered, with lots of ideas about how we might use those buildings, but we have an organization standing in front of us right now with dollars that we know they have because they come through us and go to them, and an opportunity to recoup some of those dollars.”

Board member Cynthia Thompson said she felt they didn’t need to take the first offer that presented itself and suggested recruiting proposals to use the space for another purpose. She also expressed frustration with the design of the charter school system more broadly.

“I understand the constraints that are given to us as a district to follow. But it’s hard to play ball when the other person doesn’t have to follow those rules,” she said.

At the following board meeting on April 19, nine people came to speak with two-thirds opposed to the rental of Rowan.

Ronica Smith, a parent of two Midtown Public students who came to speak in support of the lease, said that her children have done well and been excited about learning since attending.

“Midtown is a good school. If you give Midtown a chance to get Rowan, y’all are going to see, it’s going to blossom,” she said.

Other community members mentioned Midtown’s low test scores as a concern with issuing the lease, which was also previously the subject of state inquiry.

“We live in a state that has historically underfunded the education of Black children, and continues to do so while simultaneously increasing funding to entities such as Midtown Public Charter Schools, which has done a subpar job of educating Black children at best, scoring in the bottom ten percent of Mississippi schools,” said a man who spoke during the public comment section at the meeting.

JPS Board President Ed Sivak pointed out that when Rowan was closed, students in Midtown were instead sent to Brinkley Middle School, which does not score any better than Midtown Public.

The lease was presented again with amendments at the April 19 board meeting, which board member Robert Luckett moved to approve, citing the support of the residents of Midtown for the lease. But lacking support from any other board members, the proposal failed.

Kristi Hendrix, the executive director of Midtown Partners, could not be reached for comment but said in a letter to the Charter School Authorizer Board that the new facility they will be relocating to off of Northside Drive was previously used for education, making it an easy transition.

“We were very hopeful that a lease could be secured with the Jackson Public Schools for the usage of one of their two vacant buildings for the neighborhood,” Hendrix said in the letter. “Despite overwhelming support from the Midtown residents, the Jackson Public School Board expressed their desire to let the building sit vacant as opposed to allowing a charter school to use them.”

Kevin Parkinson, principal of Midtown Public, also could not be reached for comment.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jackson Public Schools to appeal teacher union case to Supreme Court

45 views – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-05-13 10:22:04

A day after a judge ruled that several Jackson staff media policies are unconstitutional and restrict educators’ freedom of speech, the district filed a notice Wednesday that it will appeal the case to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Special Judge Jess Dickinson ordered permanent injunctions to stop the district from enforcing the policies and telling staff not to contact…

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Jackson Public Schools staff policies deemed unconstitutional by judge

52 views – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-05-11 14:06:13

A judge ruled Tuesday that several Jackson  staff media policies are unconstitutional and restrict educators’ freedom of speech. 

Special Judge Jess Dickinson ordered permanent injunctions to stop the district from enforcing parts of the policies and carrying out several actions, including telling staff not to contact parents, the public, the media, law enforcement or anyone…

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Jackson Public Schools receives $9 million pre-K grant


JPS receives $9 million to expand pre-K access

The Jackson Public School District is expanding pre-kindergarten services through a $9 million grant from the state, allowing them to serve more 4-year-olds in the city. 

The grant comes from the statewide early learning collaboratives program, which are pre-K programs made up of partnerships among school districts, Head Start agencies, childcare centers, and nonprofit groups. The state’s early learning collaboratives have earned high marks for quality on national reports, but have previously been critiqued for limited access. 

The JPS collaborative will serve an additional 460 students and is part of a move to double the number of students served statewide by fall 2022. By August, 30 collaboratives will be serving more than 6,000 children across the state. 

The Jackson collaborative includes JPS, Jackson State University’s Lottie W. Thornton Early Childhood Center, Little Saints Academy, and Head Start provider Human Resource Agency. It will serve  1,226 students, approximately the same number that are currently enrolled in kindergarten with the district.

“The idea behind the collaborative is really to expand access to the same high quality that they would experience in a school-based pre-K program, and to provide the same resourcing and professional development so that you elevate teaching and learning on both ends,” said Michael Cormack, deputy superintendent of JPS. 

The collaborative will follow the state’s newly released “Mississippi Beginnings” pre-K curriculum, and will host professional development opportunities once a month on Saturdays. The grant will allow the district to compensate teachers for this additional time, and the trainings will also be open to other childcare professionals that aren’t a part of the collaborative. 

JPS Superintendent Errick Greene said in a statement that this grant will help prepare more students to experience success in school. Cormack said the expansion will eliminate the need for considerations of financial need or waiting lists that had previously been a part of JPS’s pre-K admissions process. The program is currently enrolling students and recruiting teachers, and the district is putting an emphasis on trying to get parents to register early so they can plan accordingly. 

“I think what’s really exciting is that with the addition of Jackson, we will become the largest collaborative and we will help to build the scale of what the state of Mississippi has been doing,” Cormack said. “Ultimately, we’re hopeful that as we prove this concept and we prove that pre-kindergarten works, that we can help to build to scale the ability to serve all four-year-olds throughout the state.  We view that as a part of our challenge, demonstrating what is possible here.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Students’ mental health: how schools are supporting


‘You are not alone, and we need you to know that’: What schools are doing to support students’ mental health

After 20 years of teaching special education, Alison Rausch has adopted a “one day at a time” attitude towards her job. 

Rausch, who currently teaches fifth and sixth grade at the Wheeler Attendance Center in Prentiss County, has found the uncertainty of the pandemic exhausting. The unpredictable nature of students being out for quarantine leaves her regularly reteaching lessons and makes it difficult to plan. 

There have also been an increased number of students referred to her department for testing for special education services, mostly related to depression and anxiety.  

“I’ve always been a firm believer as a special education teacher — if you don’t provide resources for the mental health, for the behavioral health, for the social skills, then you’re not going to get the academic outcomes that you want,” Rausch said. 

As the pandemic persists, Mississippi and the nation have seen increased anxiety and depression among children. The American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health in October 2021, which they said was a pandemic-induced escalation of prior trends. In Mississippi, 31,000 youth reported having a major depressive episode in 2019, of which nearly three-quarters said they did not receive treatment according to a new report from Mental Health America. 

Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, said both her teacher and student advisory councils have been very vocal about the need for increased mental health services in response to increased depression and anxiety from the pandemic. 

“To me, that is the part that breaks your heart,” Wright told Mississippi Today. “Statewide, we need to do a really good job of training our teachers and leaders on the signs and symptoms of children and adults that are struggling from mental health and social-emotional issues.” 

READ MORE: ‘We got to get some help:’ Pandemic accelerates need for children’s mental health services

 In the Jackson Public School district, a recent student prompted district officials to remind the community about the mental health services available to students.

“There are people around you — your teachers, your counselors, your principals, your parents, your pastors, on and on — there are people around you who care about you and want to see you well, so please reach out to us,” Jackson Superintendent Errick Greene said in a video message to the district community. “You are not alone, and we need you to know that.”

Jackson Public Schools contracts with Marion Counseling Services to provide onsite mental health specialists at each middle school and high school and uses Hinds Behavioral Health Services at the elementary level. District officials said both services have reported increased demand during the pandemic.

Amanda Thomas, executive director of climate and wellness in Jackson Public Schools, said when a teacher notices a student being withdrawn or making comments about hurting themselves or others, it is imperative not to take it lightly and to begin the referral process. Thomas explained that all staff members are trained on suicide prevention, but recent events have prompted them to do refresher trainings. 

“It can be a little difficult when you are faced with it, even though you think you have those particular tools in your kit, to be able to pull them out and use them,” Thomas said. 

The district is also beginning to implement a social-emotional learning curriculum, which focuses on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.

The -Gautier School District began educating staff on these topics in the fall of 2019 as part of a push district officials call “whole-child learning.” 

This work included trainings on common mental health disorders and how to accommodate them in the classroom. It also focused on the “zone of regulation” language that became the baseline curriculum for each school counselor to address mental health. The four zones –  blue, red, yellow, and green – represent different emotions. These include, respectively, sadness/tiredness, anger, anxiety/frustration, and being happy/ready to learn.

Cards such as this one assists students on how to cope with various emotions they experience during their school day at Trent Lott Academy, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.

Kristen Sims, who coordinates the program for the district, explained the zones in a video.

“The green zone is where we want to stay as much as we can, but sometimes you might enter one of those other zones … and it is completely normal to feel any of those things,” she said. “But we always want to do our best to get back to the green zone where we’re 100% ourselves.” 

This semester, the initiative was extended to include physical cards that were distributed to each student and feature the four zones as well as coping skills and positive affirmations.  

Sims said the cards were a jumping-off point for broader conversations about mental health among students, especially after they were first introduced in the classroom. 

“For the next 10 minutes, the students all discussed their feelings, saying ‘Oh, I’m in the red zone when I’m taking a math test’ and joking like that, but then also sharing what coping skills work for them,” Sims said. “So the teacher then led almost a group therapy session.”

Jeana Delancey, a school counselor at Trent Lott Academy in the Pascagoula-Gautier School District, called the cards “a great reference point.”

“It’s refreshing to see students come to me with some knowledge already of how to communicate how they’re feeling,” Delancey said. “Like planting a seed and watching it grow.”

At the state level, advocates have been pushing for years for lawmakers to enshrine mental health standards into state law.

Sanford Johnson, director of TeachPlus Mississippi, has been working with teachers to advocate for legislation that would create minimum baselines for mental in schools. 

“The teachers that went through (a mental health first aid training) have talked about just how helpful it was because they don’t have to have all the answers — it doesn’t train them how to diagnose, but you’re able to identify a student who may be dealing with a challenge,” Johnson said. “It teaches you how to communicate with that student in a trusting way, and then how to encourage that student to connect with resources.” 

“There have been so many teachers that have talked about particular students where ‘We thought it was a discipline issue, now that I know this information I’m wondering if there was a mental health issue,’” Johnson continued. 

The Mental Awareness Program for School Act, which would have created some of the programming Johnson was pushing for, passed the House earlier this session but died in a Senate committee. 

The Mississippi Department of Education is also addressing this issue by using some of its federal pandemic relief funds for free telehealth and teletherapy services within schools. 

The Oxford School District started its whole-child education push about two years ago. LaTonya Robinson, chief of student services in the Oxford School District, has tried to make this transition a collaborative process. 

”(When the) pandemic happened and we immediately realized that we needed more eyes, more people on the ball so that we didn’t miss anybody,” Robinson said. “The pandemic gave us the exciting opportunity of finding out what the gaps were and then restructuring our systems of support so that those gaps no longer existed.”

Schools hold  “at-risk” meetings at least once a month to review the status of each student receiving mental health services from the district.  These meetings are attended by counselors, behavior specialists, intervention specialists, principals, any community partners, and the district’s retention coordinator. 

The district has also worked to more effectively utilize school counselors, following a model from the American School Counselor Association. 

“It takes them away from so much of the paperwork that counselors are traditionally known for and takes them back to the three attributes of attendance, academics, and behavior,” Robinson said. 

Robinson said the district will bring on a clinical psychology intern from the University of Mississippi next school year, and plans to expand the conversation about mental health to also include parental involvement.  

“Mental health is a community problem and not just a school problem,” she said. “… Talk more to your kids. …Talk to them about things that are going on in their day so that we can connect those dots. There’s never anything worse than being in a disciplinary hearing and having a parent hear something for the first time.” 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

3 Jackson schools to remain fully virtual Wednesday

152 views – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-02-02 08:28:06

Jackson Public Schools officials announced three schools will remain virtual Wednesday as water outages continue to impact customers in the city of Jackson.

The following schools will remain virtual:

  • Peeples Middle School
  • Whitten Middle School
  • Wingfield High School

Breakfast an lunch options for impacted students will be available for pick-up on site from 8 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., district officials…

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6 Jackson schools to remain virtual Tuesday due to water pressure

79 views – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-01-31 17:30:49

Six schools in the Jackson Public Schools district will remain closed and host only virtual classes on Tuesday due to a water outage continuing to affect water customers throughout the city.

District officials announced Monday the following schools will remain closed due to lack of water:

  • Key Elementary School
  • Marshall Elementary School
  • Wilkins Elementary School
  • Peeples Middle School
  • Whitten Middle…

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3 Clinton students take top prize in state Stock Market Game

106 views – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-01-14 11:55:49

A team of students at Sumner Hill Junior High School recently took home first place for Region 3 in the Mississippi Stock Market Game, sponsored by the Mississippi Council for Economic Education. From left: Sumner Hill freshmen Zamarian Fanroy, Aaron Hickman and Jonathan Murphy with personal finance and accounting teacher Bradley Pope.

Three students at Sumner Hill Junior High School in the Clinton District took home top regional honors by showing their financial acumen in the Mississippi Stock Market Game.

Freshmen Zamarian Fanroy, Aaron Hickman and Jonathan Murphy were named the first place winners in Region 3 for the Fall 2021 contest, which is sponsored by the Mississippi Council on Economic Education.


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Jackson Public Schools to remain in-person as MS COVID-19 cases rise

140 views – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-01-04 15:59:57

Students in Jackson Public Schools will start the second half of the 2021-22 school year Thursday in the classroom as new cases of continue to rise around the state, district officials said.

Jackson Superintendent Errick L. Greene said during a news conference Tuesday the decision has been difficult based on feedback he’s received from parents and community members both for and…

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Biloxi Public School District lifts mask mandate beginning November 8th

Biloxi-High-School-300x169.jpg – WXXV Staff – 2021-11-04 14:56:10

On Wednesday, November 3, 2021, the Board of Trustees held a special called board meeting.

During that meeting they discussed and reviewed transmission data and Covid-19 procedures. Data shows a drastic decline in the number of positive Covid19 cases in and especially within the…

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