Thursday, November 30, 2017
JACKSON If Tuesday night was any indication of how the new Jackson Public Schools Board of Trustees will operate, Jacksonians are in good hands. In a three-hour-long meeting, the new board members questioned just about everything on the agenda, as most of the trustees got their first taste of the different powers and responsibilities they hold. The board is one member shy of being full, only missing a Ward 3 member. They elected officers first, unanimously choosing Jeanne Hairston as president, Ed Sivak as vice president and Barbara Hilliard as secretary.
Besides approving or disapproving contracts, the board's most urgent task will be to approve the district's new corrective action plan in December. In October, the Commission on School Accreditation voted to keep JPS on probation. JPS is out of compliance with 24 standards, by the Commission on School Accreditation's count. Interim Superintendent Freddrick Murray told the board that he is confident the district will present a competent CAP in the upcoming months.
The new CAP is due to the Office of Accreditation on Jan. 16, 2018. The Mississippi Board of Education must approve that plan in February, which starts the countdown until July 2018 when JPS must be finished with its CAP.
William Merritt, the JPS executive director of school improvement, told the board that the district has put in processes to address the deficiencies in the investigative audit. It is working with the Bailey Education Group, as well as receiving technical assistance from the Mississippi Department of Education's Office of Accreditation on a weekly basis.
"Could MDE clear any of the items in advance of that?" Sivak asked district leaders Tuesday.
"Not before the state board approves the corrective action plan. This new CAP—it will serve as the CAP—the old plan will go away," Murray said. "So on February 15, when the state board approves the plan ... at that point we can start requesting that standards be cleared."
A limited state audit of the district in April 2016 revealed deficiencies, some of which JPS has since overcome. Now, the district is working to meet the standards listed in both that audit and the full investigative audit, which almost prompted a takeover of the school district. Board members had a lot of questions about the Bailey Education Group, which the district has contracted with to help clear the standards. Merritt asked the board to approve another contract with the group for 20 days of work that would ensure the district is prepared for MDE to monitor their progress next spring.
"I am really concerned about spending $1,400 a day for 20 days on a consultant group that I'm not sure if it merits out," Letitia Johnson said.
Merritt and Murray said they both felt confident in the consultants' expertise, particularly because both Pat Ross and Ann Moore, who are working with the district, previously worked at MDE.
Board members were concerned about the district's ability to track the group's work.
"Understand that since we have used the group, MDE has not come out to monitor a standard since we have contracted with them," Merritt said. "So until they come out and monitor us for compliance, it's kind of hard to say whether or not to say their support (has helped)."
Murray said the district needs the support to ensure that standard leaders within the district can understand exactly what they need to do to meet the required standards.
"We were going through this process in the blind," he said.
After several questions, the board did finally approve the third contract with the Bailey Education Group directly related to the district's CAP this year. The first contract was for $95,900 back in April. The second contract with Bailey, for $145,000, focused only on Standard 20, which requires districts to have an instructional management system and tiered models. The third contract, worth $29,000, will allow Bailey staff to check the district for compliance after the state board approves JPS' new CAP in the spring.
Bailey contractors are working with district leaders to review the new CAP plans, and the JPS board will have to approve that plan at its second December meeting.