JPS Board President Beneta Burt addresses those in attendance at a special called board meeting to discuss the district’s search for a new superintendent.

The Jackson Public School Board failed to take the first step in finding a new superintendent for the state’s largest urban school district after nearly two hours of board discussion and public comment Tuesday night.

The first decision the board must make is whether to hire a consulting firm to conduct a search, and whether that firm should be a local, regional or national firm.

After about an hour and a half of discussion with no resolution, board member Rickey Jones suggested action be delayed until the board comes together to analyze the needs of the district and what it must have in both a new leader and a search firm.

“No disrespect, but some of us having been saying this for the last six weeks,” fellow member Kimberly Campbell said in response.

Former Superintendent Cedrick Gray announced his resignation in late October.

Campbell noted the importance of the district moving quickly, not only in its superintendent search but also in correcting the many safety and other issues found by the Mississippi Department of Education in an audit in early 2016. The district stands to lose its accreditation and be taken over by the state if it does not act immediately, department officials said last month.

“MDE is watching us. We are on the clock,” she said.

While Board President Beneta Burt supported moving forward with a vote on whether to hire a consultant, a majority of board members thought they needed to do more preparation first.

“This requires somebody who can really stay on this task full time,” Burt said. It would “surely help us to ensure that we have a search that is national in scope if that’s what we choose to do.”

Several board members and community members in the crowd stressed the importance of getting feedback from parents.

“In the interim, we’re going to have conversations with the community about what those things (a superintendent must have) are and that will certainly play into any selection that we have,” Burt continued.

The board will meet again for further discussion of the district’s needs before its next board meeting in one week.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.