JPS eyes school closures, expanded pre-K

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Superintendent Dr. Errick L. Greene speaks during a public meeting about the findings of the student based study on the school district during a public meeting at the Jackson Convention Complex Thursday, November 29, 2018.

The Jackson Public School District is considering school closures and consolidations in an effort to redistribute funds and provide more educational offerings, officials said Friday.

Superintendent Errick Greene said the proposed changes were decided based on enrollment trends and facilities challenges. The suggestions will be presented to the school board on Dec. 17 for information only, and again on Jan. 7 for a vote.

If approved, the district would:

  • Close Barr Elementary School; current students would be rezoned to Pecan Park Elementary School.
  • Convert Van Winkle Elementary school to a pre-K-only facility. Van Winkle students would be rezoned to Bates and Clausell elementary schools.
  • Eliminate the sixth grade at McWillie Elementary School and move the four kindergarten classrooms to Boyd Elementary School; convert those classrooms into up to four additional pre-K classrooms.
  • Consolidate Hardy Middle School into Blackburn Laboratory Middle School.
  • Consolidate Siwell Middle School into Cardozo and Peeples middle schools.
  • Launch a community engagement process to create a new plan for Lanier High School’s feeder pattern to increase enrollment

Although a dollar figure was not available on Friday, Greene said the rezonings and consolidations would provide “fairly significant” savings for the school district, allowing more robust course offerings.

Jackson Public Schools is the state’s second largest school district, but like many public schools, has seen a decline in enrollment in recent years. Enrollment for the current school year is more than 5,500 students less than it was five years ago. Last year the district closed four elementary schools for similar reasons: dwindling state funds, declining enrollment and the cost of maintaining aging facilities.

“A large part of the purpose here is to be able to reinvest in education in other ways,” Greene said. “With fewer schools, you’re spending that same number of dollars across fewer schools and so the concentration of resources is greater.”

The changes would double pre-K access in the district. Greene took helm of the district in October 2018, and in July his office unveiled a five-year strategic plan for improvement. The first tenet of the plan is a commitment to “…ensure that every 4-year-old in Jackson has access to high-quality, full-day early learning opportunities.”

Greene said McWillie would continue to offer its Montessori program, but with the kindergarten classrooms transferring to Boyd there would be room for up to 80 more pre-K seats. Van Winkle would also serve more pre-K students.

“This is not removing pre-K from other schools; these are additional pre-K seats serving especially the South Jackson neighborhoods,” Greene said of the Van Winkle proposal.

If approved by the school board next year, the consolidations would likely create staffing changes within the district. Greene said he does not anticipate teachers will lose their jobs, but some positions like custodians, office staff, and teacher aides may be cut if the consolidations occur. Specific figures were not available.

The changes would also affect the district’s bond issue. Last summer voters approved a $65 million referendum to improve aging school facilities. If the school board approves the consolidations, Greene said the district would work with its bond oversight committee to examine how to redistribute funds that were originally allocated for those schools. Although the students at Hardy Middle School would be moved to Blackburn Middle School, the district has already invested in Hardy’s football field and plans to reinvent the building as part of a district wide athletics complex, Green said.