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Jackson residents were urged Friday to keep fighting for the Jackson Public Schools despite the “shadow” of a state takeover.
The message came from Tyrone Hendrix, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Educators and a former city councilman Tyrone Hendrix in comments at Koinonia Coffee House about the consequences of a state takeover and what the community can do to support the district.
The Commission on School Accreditation and State Board of Education both determined last week that an extreme emergency situation exists in the school district that jeopardized the safety and educational interests of the students. It’s now up to Gov. Phil Bryant to decide whether to declare a state of emergency so the state can take over the district.
Hendrix thanked Bryant for taking time to deliberate over the decision, and reminded the audience that the community needs to continue to band together and support the district by signing a petition against a takeover or sending a letter to the governor.
He also thanked Jackson-area legislators for meeting with the governor so he could hear from all sides and consider alternative proposals to a state takeover the district.
“I want to thank the governor again for being deliberative and thoughtful in this process, taking time to look at both sides,” Hendrix said. “I believe if he does look at both sides he will agree that currently right now Jackson public schools is not in a state of emergency.”
Mississippi governors have declared a state of emergency in a school district 19 times so far. Hendrix said the state has not been successful with takeovers so far.
“The state, Mississippi Department of Education, has an abysmal record when it comes to improving … the educational attainment for our children when they take over schools,” he said.
A bill passed during the 2017 legislative session changed the terminology for the new district leader from “conservator” to “interim superintendent.” Under the law, if the governor declares a state of emergency in a school district, it is taken over by the state and becomes a District of Transformation. The district remains in that status under the interim superintendent until it earns an accountability grade of C or higher for five consecutive years.
At a legislative budget hearing Thursday, State Superintendent Carey Wright told legislators that part of the reasoning for the bill was a renewed focus on improving instruction instead of just fixing accreditation violations.
“This is something that is brand new, our children will be test subjects for this new district of transformation that has never been tested before,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix, who has two children enrolled in the district, reminded the audience that if the district is taken over, the school board is abolished and the state board serves in its place, meaning the mayor of Jackson and city council lose the ability to appoint members.
“So this is a scary time for us. I can’t sugar coat it and I’m not trying to scare anybody, but it’s the truth,” he said. “It’s what’s in the law.”