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JPS Central Office Needs Restructuring, Report Says

Interim Superintendent Freddrick Murray has acknowledged the need for a chief academic officer and chief of schools in Jackson Public Schools, both recommendations that the Council of Great City Schools made in its recent report on the district.

Interim Superintendent Freddrick Murray has acknowledged the need for a chief academic officer and chief of schools in Jackson Public Schools, both recommendations that the Council of Great City Schools made in its recent report on the district. Photo by Stephen Wilson.

— The capital city's schools have been on a roller coaster the past year, avoiding a state takeover, then installing a new school board and adding a commission to help study the district. Various groups have inspected Jackson Public Schools closely, including the Council of Great City Schools.

The council, a coalition of 70 urban school districts in the country, published its review of JPS' instructional program and made several recommendations for improvement. At the heart of most of those reforms is leadership and structure, the report says.

"Like other urban school systems, Jackson is struggling to make progress on behalf of its students and community," the report says. "The district has produced some real gains over the years, only to see these gains washed away with the turnover in leadership. But the new school board is working hard to improve the way it governs the system."

JPS went several years without a curriculum department until recently, the report says, and now teachers and principals report that rules requiring administrators to monitor curriculum requirements, like making sure 90-minute literacy blocks and math blocks, are enforced at each school.

"It was clear the district is paying the price for the decision some years ago to eliminate the (curriculum) department," the report says.

In order to remedy curriculum inadequacies and ensure that standards are adhered to in all schools, not just some of them, the Council of Great City Schools' researchers recommend that the district restructure its central office.

The report recommends that JPS hire a chief academic officer who can oversee all of the curriculum departments in the district, including special education, English Language Learners and early childhood education. Researchers also recommend that JPS hire a chief of schools to oversee the four area superintendents. The area superintendents currently report to Interim Superintendent Freddrick Murray, who previously acknowledged the need for these additional administrative roles to the JPS board.

The school board has already moved on several recommendations from the Council's report, including pushing forward with its superintendent search. Board members have expressed hesitancy about making big district-wide organizational changes to the district before securing a new leader, however.

"We know that right now our priority is getting a strong superintendent in place, and we want to make sure we create an environment where she or he can come into and be successful," board Vice President Ed Sivak said in a February interview. "So we want to be careful about making lots of changes prior to that person getting in place, so that they can work with the board to build a structure where our students can succeed."

The board plans to have a new superintendent in place by July, and applications for the position close May 14.

The new report from the Council of Great City Schools details a proposed organizational structure for the district, as well as offers specific curriculum and class recommendations to ensure that JPS students are receiving required instruction under state and federal laws.

Email reporter Arielle Dreher at arielle@jacksonfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter at @arielle_amara for breaking news.

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