In a frank conversation Friday morning, Jackson Public Schools interim superintendent Freddrick Murray took ownership of the district’s failures and encouraged the community to become advocates for the district.
Murray was the featured speaker at a Koinonia Coffee House community forum. He spoke to the crowded room about the issues facing JPS, what’s being done to fix them, and how they can help.
To issues the district is facing, “you really have to look at the bottom line: No one is coming to save us,” Murray said. “It’s not going to happen. We have to be innovative and think outside the box and do the work ourselves.”
Murray stepped in as interim superintendent in November, after former schools chief Cedrick Gray resigned.
“We’ve had changes in leadership, we’ve had inconsistencies, we’ve had a myriad of things that have happened that have created issues in our system and its caused us to have some gaps,” Murray said.
An April 2016 audit of the district by the Mississippi Department of Education found multiple accreditation violations, which resulted in the district being placed on probationary status. Since then, the district received an ‘F’ rating on its 2015-2016 accountability ratings and Gray resigned.
In November, the first version of the district’s corrective action plan (CAP) was put in place to fix the violations was rejected by the state Board of Education because there were not enough specifics for both actions and timelines in which the actions would be completed. The revised plan was accepted in December.
Murray said the district is actively working to fix issues highlighted in the CAP, which include inaccurate reporting of data, teachers not holding valid licenses or endorsements for subjects they are teaching, incomplete graduation records and school buses arriving late, among others.
If JPS fails to fix these issues, the district can be taken over by the state and lose its accreditation status. State Education Superintendent Carey Wright met with the Jackson school board last fall to emphasize the dire situation the district faced.
Should a takeover occur, schools would be prohibited from participating in more than half of the regular season of any athletic activity, as well as speech and debate, choral music and band. All post-season activities would be suspended, and the school district would not be allowed to hold special games, parades, tournaments or competitions of any kind.
The governor could also declare a state of emergency in the school district, which would lead to the overhaul of district leadership and the appointment of a conservator by the state.
When asked by an audience member if he felt sure the district would keep its accreditation, Murray answered: “I can’t say we feel safe, because again that is not something that we have control over. That’s totally up to MDE.”
During the conversation, Murray also encouraged parents and community members to become advocates for the district by staying engaged, becoming knowledgeable about the process and visiting schools.