The Jackson Public Schools Better Together Commission should begin receiving offers to evaluate the school district as soon as next week.

In its second meeting, this time hosted at Bailey APAC Middle School, members approved their request for proposal (RFP) for an outside group to conduct an in depth evaluation of the school district. The commission will tweak the current wording to ensure it is more student centered, at the request of member Ed Sivak and the Jackson Public Schools school board.

The commission will release the RFP for bids on Monday, Dec. 4. Community members with ideas about which groups should receive it should send their suggestions to

Commission member Claiborne Barksdale attended the meeting via teleconference and told members the commission intends to interview the top five or six candidates in-person in Jackson between Jan. 8 and Jan. 12, and make the final decision shortly after.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation will bear the cost of the search. Once a group is in place, it will begin a 10-month process of examining the district to identify issues and provide solutions. That work should be complete by November 2018, Barksdale said. (Barksdale is the brother of Jim Barksdale, a member of Mississippi Today’s board of directors.)

Interim Superintendent Freddrick Murray caught the members up to speed on the district’s corrective action plan, or CAP. Although the state did not take over the district, JPS is still required to submit a plan to the state that details how it will fix the issues highlighted in an audit conducted by Mississippi Department of Education.

JPS officials said at a school board meeting earlier this week that the CAP must be submitted to the state Department of Education by Jan. 16. The State Board of Education will either approve or deny it at a Feb. 15 meeting. All of the issues must be corrected by July 31, Murray said.

One particularly daunting standard that must be cleared involves the employment of properly accredited teaching staff. At the meeting Thursday, executive director of school improvement William Merritt told the commission there are currently 216 limited-service employees working in the district. Limited service teachers are substitutes that are not licensed.

“As many of you are aware, we have a teacher shortage. It’s not a JPS issue, it’s a national issue,” Merritt said.

The 15-member commission was announced earlier this year as part of a partnership between the City of Jackson, Gov. Phil Bryant’s office, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The commission’s next meeting was not announced, but member Paheadra Bratton Robinson gave the time and date for several community listening sessions set to take place in December, where the public can share their problems and aspirations for the district.

Monday, Dec. 11, 5:30 p.m.

  • Christ United Methodist Church, 6000 Old Canton Rd.
  • Anderson United Methodist Church, 6205 Hanging Moss Rd.

Tuesday, Dec. 12 5:30 p.m.

  • Cade Chapel Church, 1000 Ridgeway Rd.
  • Siwell Middle School 1983 N. Siwell Rd.

Wednesday, Dec. 13 5:30 p.m.

  • Provine High School, 2400 Robinson Road
  • Mississippi e-Center at Jackson State University, 1230 Raymond Rd.

Thursday, Dec. 14 5:30 p.m.

  • Jackson City Hall, 219 S. President St.

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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. 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.