On Tuesday, Jackson Public Schools opened for business once again and welcomed in thousands of students for the first day of school.
The 2017-18 school year will be the first under a new organizational plan where the district is split into four regions to better streamline efficiency. The district has implemented several other operational changes in response to pressure from the state to correct issues that affect the district’s accreditation.
Mississippi Department of Education spokesperson Patrice Guilfoyle said Tuesday — after an earlier version of this story was published — that the state’s audit on the district closed on July 31 and that Jackson Public Schools officials will receive the report on Aug. 31. MDE officials have declined to provide details as the audit progressed.
Here’s a timeline of developments as the district has taken steps to address the state’s concerns:
• April 2016: The Mississippi Department of Education found JPS in violation of 22 of 32 state accreditation benchmarks, which put the district at risk being put on probation or taken over by the state. The audit was done on 22 schools, not the entire district. The violations ranged from 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.
• August 2016: MDE downgraded the district‘s accreditation status to “probation,” meaning JPS did not comply with accreditation policies and was required to develop a corrective action plan (CAP) on a specific timeline. The Commission on School Accreditation also voted to approve a full audit of all JPS schools.
• September 2016: Then superintendent Cedrick Gray told the public at a town hall meeting that the district is correcting issues on the CAP by refinancing debt, revamping its record-keeping process, ordering and replacing school buses and fire extinguishers, and working to create a closer relationship with Jackson and Hinds County law enforcement.
• October 2016: It is announced at a board meeting that Gray resigned as superintendent in the wake of an “F” accountability rating by the state and another possible downgrade in accreditation status.
• November 2016: The JPS Board of Trustees named former chief academic officer Freddrick Murray as interim superintendent, and announces they will form a search committee to find a permanent replacement. Later in the month, the State Board of Education rejected the district’s CAP because it was not specific enough in certain areas.
• December 2016: The State Board of Education accepted a revised CAP, but state officials warned the district they appeared to lack urgency and were still at risk of takeover and losing their accreditation.
• January 2017: The JPS board initially stalled on the decision of whether to hire a search firm to find the district’s next superintendent, but voted later in January to conduct a national search for a replacement.
• February 2017: At a board meeting, members reversed their decision to hire a consultant and conduct a search and instead voted to keep Murray, the interim superintendent, in place until the end of the 2017-18 school year.
• May 2017: The board held a public work session with Bailey Education Group, a consulting agency they hired by the board to help navigate the audit process. Bailey representatives said JPS made progress on some standards, but transportation, safety, and other issues still plagued the district. Later, board member Kimberly Campbell resigned because her position as state director of AARP required her to travel frequently.
• June 2017: Board member Kodi Hobbs resigned, and board president Beneta Burt’s term ended June 30. With their departures, the board was left with four members, the minimum necessary to establish a quorum.
• July 2017: Newly-elected board president Richard Lind resigned, and the board was forced to halt all meetings until the mayor nominated a replacement to re-establish a quorum. The board could not conduct business.
• August 2017: Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba nominated attorney Letitia Simmons Johnson to serve on the board, and she was confirmed by City Council.