Two districts – and JPS – tabbed as Achievement School District candidates

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Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today

State Superintendent Carey Wright (left) and Michael Cormack, chief executive officer at the Barksdale Reading Institute at the achievement School District task force meeting.

At least two school districts may be placed in the new state-run Achievement School District next school year — and Jackson Public Schools potentially could be added to the mix.

A decision could come as soon as next month if the State Board of Education approves recommendations made Wednesday by the Achievement School District task force.

Basing its decisions on state accountability results released in October, the Achievement School District task force recommended that the Noxubee County and Humphreys County school districts be designated to become part of the state-run district, which is not yet operational.

In a separate resolution, the task force included Jackson Public Schools along with Noxubee County and Humphreys County.

Rachel Canter, a task force member and executive director of Mississippi First, told members they needed to address “the elephant in the room” that was Jackson Public Schools.

Although the school district meets all three criteria for inclusion in the Achievement School District, Gov. Phil Bryant recently announced he would not sign a state of emergency declaration and turn the district over to state control. Instead, it is involved in a partnership between his office, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the City of Jackson.

Despite this, state law allows for the district to be placed into the Achievement School District if the state Board of Education decides to do so.

Mississippi First

Rachel Canter, executive director of Mississippi First

“JPS made the list under three of three criteria, so on a basis that is focused on children we have to confront the fact that JPS has very bad data and that’s just the reality,” Canter said. “And yet, there are two other school districts that have worse data and there are multiple political factors at play.”

This puts the state board in “a pretty tough position,” of deciding whether to include just two, or all three districts because they each met all of the criteria, Canter said.

Lawmakers passed a bill during the 2016 session to create the Achievement School District “for the purpose of transforming persistently failing public schools and districts throughout the state into quality educational institutions.”

The State Board of Education, which will make a final determination, expanded the criteria for a district to join the Achievement School District last month. The new criteria states:

• Eligible districts are ones that receive an F accountability rating for two consecutive years, or twice in three years.

• Eligible districts include ones with 50 percent or more of a district’s schools are rated F.

• Eligible districts include ones with 50 percent or more of the students in the district attend an F school.

Additionally, the board decided that the Achievement School District will only take on as many schools as it has the capacity to serve.

JPS, Noxubee and Humphreys districts meet all three criteria, which is why the board made one recommendation that all three be considered.

Greenville Public School District, Holmes County School District, Wilkinson County School District, Noxubee County School District, Jackson Public School District and Humphreys County School District each received an F rating for the second year in a row, which makes them eligible by at least one criteria.

School districts that consolidate receive the higher accountability score of the two districts, so Holmes County School District was removed from consideration because it is merging with Durant Public School district, which has a D.

Mississippi Department of Education

A map of the Mississippi school districts (in pink) being considered for the state-run Achievement School District.

At JPS, 50.4 percent of its 27,655 students attend F rated schools. That figure jumps to 73.6 percent of the 1,748 students in the Humphreys County School District, and 70.2 percent of 1,662 students in the Noxubee County School District, according to data provided by the state Department of Education during the meeting.

In the Noxubee County district, 4 of 5 schools were rated F. In Jackson, 30 of 58 schools were rated F. In Humphreys County, 3 of 4 schools were rated F.

Each of the three districts ranks at or near the bottom of the list in terms of overall accountability scores: Out of the 143 districts which received scores, Noxubee was 140th, Jackson was 141st, and Humphreys was 142nd.

Ocean Springs School District superintendent and task force chair Bonita Coleman told reporters after the meeting that Jackson Public Schools needed to be considered regardless of politics.

“That (politics) didn’t enter into the conversation today because it shouldn’t,” Coleman said. “We’re really triangulating data in terms of making a sound decision based on very specific definitions and criteria so it didn’t matter what the district’s name was, we tried to make sure we treated all districts the same and that’s why continue to look at so many data points.”

Kayleigh Skinner/Mississippi Today

The Achievement School District planning committee met Nov. 8 to discuss which districts were eligible.

There is much work to be done before any school district joins the Achievement School District. The school district still needs a leader. At the Oct. 19 state Board of Education meeting, state superintendent Carey Wright said she intended for the district to open in the 2018-19 school year.

Wright said she will mention the recommendations to the State Board of Education at their monthly meeting Thursday, but they won’t be officially presented to the board until its Dec. 14 meeting. The next meeting for the ASD task force is scheduled for Dec. 6.

Correction: In a previous version of this story, Wilkinson County School District was misidentified as a candidate for the Achievement School District.