Hundreds of capital city residents attended a community meeting Monday night to discuss the proposed consolidation plan for Jackson Public Schools, with nearly every speaker asking district officials to save Wingfield High School.
Last week, JPS district leadership introduced a plan to close 16 school buildings because of declining enrollment in the district. The district has lost around 9,500 students between the 2015-16 and 2023-24 school years, about a third of the district population. The district has also previously consolidated schools.
District leaders hosted the first of four community meetings Monday night at Forest Hill High School, where about 20 people spoke to share concerns about the school consolidation plan. At various points during the meeting, attendees applauded and reacted enthusiastically to statements made about saving the schools on the proposed closure list.
Samaya Johnson, a current student at Wingfield, spoke about the positive experience she’s had at the school and asked the district to not take it away.
“Y’all are talking about money and everything else but you’re not going off of how your students feel,” Johnson said. “You’re not just tearing down a school, you’re breaking up a family.”
Errick Greene, the superintendent of Jackson Public Schools, shared additional financial data Monday night, which showed the district had lost $107.7 million over that same nine-year period because of enrollment decline and payments to charter schools. The new plan would be expected to save around $18 million annually.
Greene told Mississippi Today that schools were identified for closure or consolidation based on enrollment declines being steeper in some areas, estimated costs to address facility issues, and related impacts on feeder patterns. He emphasized the academic performance of schools was not a factor in the process.
The following buildings are on the proposed closure list:
- Clausell Elementary School
- Dawson Elementary School
- G. N. Smith Elementary School
- Green Elementary School
- Key Elementary School
- Lake Elementary School
- Lester Elementary School
- Oak Forest Elementary School
- Obama IB Elementary
- Raines Elementary School
- Shirley Elementary School
- Sykes Elementary School
- Wells APAC Elementary
- Chastain Middle School
- Whitten Middle School
- Wingfield High School
After an overview of the proposed plan from Greene, students, parents, staff and community members asked questions and offered comments for over an hour, with several people emphasizing the social toll these changes will have on the community.
About 30 Wingfield students were in attendance Monday night, with several more offering testimonials of the support they have received from teachers, the positive experience of the athletic programs, and their concern they may lose class rankings and opportunities for scholarships if merged with another school.
The impact of merging rival high schools was a repeated concern, with some students saying attendance would become an issue if students were forced to attend rival Forest Hill or Jim Hill.
“The merger of these scholars … will definitely increase violence and it will affect their education,” said Valencia White, an alumnus of Wingfield.
She listed recent incidents between students of the schools, suggesting that JPS instead merge Whitten Middle School into the Wingfield building, similar to the approach taken at Lanier High School.
Greene responded to the concern about rivalries. “I resent and resist that language that says our scholars cannot get along,” he said.
After being met with grumbles from the audience, he continued.
“We can agree to disagree on this point, but I do want to strongly urge you to think about what we’re saying about our children, children who live in our city, and the implications of this assertion that it cannot work.”
He continued that it will take work and changes to help students make the shift, but that he does believe it is possible.
Multiple people also asked about plans from the district to stem the declining enrollment and prevent future closures. Greene said the city and state are also declining in population, making it likely JPS will continue to lose students, but it is unclear at what rate. He said he wants to be a part of making Jackson successful and highlighted the improved performance of the school district in recent years, which he hopes will attract more people to the area.
“At some point, the investments that are starting to be made and needing to be made in the city, as well as the investments we’re making, as well as our increased performance, will catch fire,” he said.
Other people pointed out the majority of the schools on the consolidation list are located in south Jackson, saying it will further harm conditions in the neighborhood if more schools are closed.
After the meeting adjourned, JPS leadership said they were pleased by the turnout and engagement from students.
“I was very, very excited to see the amount of support that came out for their schools, especially the students and the teachers and the coaches,” said Cynthia Thompson, JPS board member for Ward 6. “To hear that kind of support makes us really think about what we have to do, but what I am hoping we were able to convey is that something has to be done.”
Greene said he appreciated specific questions about data, which the district will be publishing answers to in a FAQ document. He said that as the district hosts the three remaining community meetings, leadership will be looking for trends in the feedback to make adjustments.
“There’s some (room for change), but they’re tradeoffs,” he said. “At the end of the day, I can’t name a building that doesn’t require some level of investment.”
Greene asked community members to continue looking at the data the district shared as they continue to gather feedback at the additional community meetings, which are Oct. 30 at Callaway High School, Nov. 6 at Provine High School, and Nov. 14 at Murrah High School.
“This is nothing that I wanted to bring. I really hate that we are in a position where this is even a conversation because it drums up so much emotion and angst, but this is a real issue that we simply can’t ignore,” he said. “Most of the folks here … have had experiences in our buildings that are not so great in terms of HVAC failing or water pressure or restrooms that don’t work. We sometimes have short memories about those things.”