California turn-around specialists hired to study Jackson Public Schools

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Jackson Public Schools

Jackson Public Schools administrative building

The Jackson Public School District has enlisted a California-based consultant group to shepherd it through school improvement efforts.

The JPS Better Together Commission hired Insight Education Group, a company based in Encino, Calif., to conduct a 10-month study of the district. The findings of the study will be public.

Insight is described as an “international educational consulting company” which focuses on turning around under-performing schools and teacher training, according to its website. The group has worked with districts across the county, but this will be the first school district in Mississippi, according to the site.

The group has worked with schools in Syracuse, N.Y., which saw “significant gains in student achievement,” according to a press release sent Monday morning.

“The selection of Insight Education Group is the next step in our efforts to understand the issues facing JPS. We are working with citizens from all sectors of the city to develop a long-term solution for our students,” said Claiborne Barksdale, co-chair of the Better Together Commission’s Study Action Table subcommittee. “This study is a critical component of this multifaceted effort to move the district forward.”

Massachusetts-based District Management Group will work with Insight Education Group to focus on district-level issues of finance, personnel and organizational efficiency.

Announced in October 2017, the 15-member Better Together Commission was charged with engaging the community and hiring an outside entity to conduct an evaluation of the district. Gov. Phil Bryant, the City of Jackson and the Michigan-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation each appointed five members to the commission, and Kellogg will bear the cost of the evaluation.

In December, the commission sent out a request for proposal for a consultant to “conduct a student-centered study that leads to the creation of a community-wide vision and plan of action” that leads to a successful and equitable district.

The work is similar to a separate Kellogg initiative in Battle Creek, Mich., where the foundation gave the Battle Creek Public School District a five-year, $51 million grant in May 2017 to target low academic performance tied to racial inequity. Before that announcement, Kellogg provided funding for the New York University Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools to conduct a study of the district and its community. The study found “structural bias and racial, socioeconomic and residential segregation create unequal access to opportunities in Battle Creek, produce inequitable educational outcomes, and limit some students’ pursuit of career and college readiness in the region,” according to a release.

In Jackson, Insight will examine problems in the public school system, many of which were outlined in a 680-page Mississippi Department of Education audit of Jackson Public Schools that spurred a possible takeover process last fall.

Although the district was not taken over by the state, the Mississippi Department of Education still required JPS officials to submit a corrective action plan last month which outlines how to address those issues. The State Board of Education will approve or deny that plan later this week.

Insight’s evaluation is supposed to identify the district’s problems and provide solutions for them as well.