Jackson Public Schools administrative building Credit: Jackson Public Schools

Current and former educators, business leaders and other professionals were named to the new commission tasked with overseeing an evaluation of Jackson Public Schools.

Gov. Phil Bryant, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation each appointed five members on Nov. 2 to the “Better Together Commission,” which will play a key role in keeping Mississippi’s second largest school district from being taken over by the state.

The members are:  (read full biographies here)

Ivye Allen: President of the Foundation for the Mid South

Claiborne Barksdale: Former CEO of the Barksdale Reading Institute, currently serving on Mississippi Building Blocks Advisory Board

Robert Blaine: Chief administrative officer for the City of Jackson

Geraldine Chaney: A Jackson-area pediatrician who also serves an an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center

Cheryl Coleman: A JPS graduate and parent to two Murrah High School graduates. Coleman is a math teacher at Bailey APAC Middle School

Ronnie Crudup Sr.: Administrative Bishop for the
Fellowship of International Churches and senior pastor of
New Horizon Church International

Kathleen Grigsby: Principal of Davis Magnet World IB Elementary

Shauna Nicholson-Johnson: Principal of Baker Elementary School

Charles McClelland: A member of the Mississippi State Board of Education

Paheadra Bratton Robinson: Mississippi Partnership Specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau; current JPS parent

Yumeka Burt Rushing: Mississippi-based program officer with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Laurie Smith: Education and workforce development policy adviser to Gov. Bryant

Ed Sivak: Executive vice president with Hope Enterprise Corp.

Leland Speed: Member of the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board and former Executive Director of the Mississippi Development Authority

Laketia Marshall-Thomas: Assistant superintendent of area two feeder pattern in JPS

The commission is a component of the recently unveiled “third option” for Jackson Public Schools. In August, the state Department of Education released the results of an 18-month investigative audit that found the district in violation of 75 percent of state accreditation standards.

Instead of declaring a state of emergency, as was recommended by the state Board of Education and Mississippi Commission on School Accreditation, Bryant announced he had struck a deal with Lumumba and the Kellogg Foundation to create a commission to oversee an outside evaluation of the school district.

“I am grateful for these individuals’ willingness to serve, and for their commitment to bring transformational change to Jackson Public Schools,” Bryant said in a statement Friday. “I look forward to the Commission beginning work as we move toward
becoming Better Together.”

According to the release sent Friday, the commission will have monthly public meetings to “assure its charge is met.” The charge includes dramatically expanding engagement efforts in the community and expanding knowledge and understanding of the district’s “unique problems” by leading a comprehensive report of the district.

The commission will issue a request for proposal for an outside entity to conduct an in-depth evaluation that develops solutions for the school district during the current school year. Implementing those solutions will begin with the 2018-19 school year.

At a city council meeting earlier this week, Blaine told Lumumba and the council members the commission will host a series of community conversations over the next three to four months where the public can share their challenges and vision for the district. Blaine said the outside evaluation will happen at the same time.

Kellogg will cover the cost of the evaluation and also provide assistance with the community conversations.

“I believe that a strong educational system is the basis of an economic model based on human dignity. I am deeply appreciative of these Commissioners sharing their skills to better our community,” Lumumba said. “As we work together to build a bold new vision of our city, let us start where it matters most – the future of our children.”


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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Skinner most recently served as deputy managing editor before assuming the role of managing editor. Kayleigh has a bachelor’s in journalism from the School of Journalism and New Media from the University of Mississippi. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.