Audience members listen as students express their concerns about school closures during a Jackson Public School community meeting at Forest Hill High School in Jackson, Miss., Monday, Oct. 9, 2023. JPS announced its plan to close or consolidate 16 schools. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Jackson Public Schools concluded its series of community meetings on proposed school closures Tuesday night with multiple parents saying they still lacked clarity about the specifics of how this plan will be implemented. 

“You came up with this plan, but you haven’t talked to anybody that it’s going to impact,” said Angela Samuels, a Casey Elementary parent. 

In October, 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 its population. The district has also previously consolidated schools.

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

The district hosted four community meetings to receive public feedback on the plan and answer questions. The structure of these meetings changed multiple times as the district responded to time constraints and concerns about adequate opportunities for community participation.

Hundreds of people attended the first community meeting at Forest Hill High School, where concerns were raised about the social impact these mergers will have on students and communities as well as the large number of school closures in south Jackson. The meeting began with a presentation of the consolidation plan, which was followed by over an hour of concerns and questions from community members. 

READ MORE: ‘You’re breaking up a family’: Hundreds attend community meeting about proposed Jackson school closures

Since the first meeting ran over its 7:30 p.m. end time, JPS officials restructured the meetings at Callaway and Provine High Schools to have community members submit their questions via a QR code instead of giving them a microphone. At the Provine meeting on Nov. 6, attendees interrupted Superintendent Errick Greene to voice frustration that community members were not getting to speak directly, which resulted in a back-and-forth before the meeting was ended early. 

Sherwin Johnson, communications director for the district, said after the Nov. 6 meeting that the change was made for efficiency and they did consider the meeting to be engaging, but they would take the feedback under advisement for the final meeting. 

At the final meeting Tuesday at Murrah High School, Greene skipped the recap of the consolidation proposal and instead reviewed the feedback they had already received, reserving most of the time for speakers. Community members had a 90-second limit at the microphone and were told in advance their questions would not be answered tonight, instead having responses posted to the district’s FAQ page about the consolidation plan. 

Timothy Bracey with Operation Good, a community organization, had been one of the attendees to express frustration at the Nov. 6 meeting. While he still has concerns about the plan overall, he said the meeting Tuesday was an improvement. 

“It was better in the sense that they let the people ask their questions, but at the same time, if they are going to have these optimization plans, the questions that the community has, they should have answers for them,” Bracey said. 

Other parents also expressed concern about the lack of answers at the meeting and said they would like specificity from the district on how empty buildings will be used or maintained and how the district will work to build new school communities.

Samuels, the Casey Elementary parent, expressed disappointment with some of Greene’s comments, particularly his remarks regarding the timeline of the consolidation plan. Greene shared at the end of the meeting that he had initially intended to present this plan in the spring, allowing for almost a full year of discourse on the plan. 

“A full year of all of us doing this, imagine that,” he said. “As concerned, angsty as people are today, imagine a full year of this. I’m pretty convinced that that was not a good idea.”

Samuels said that she understands that change is uncomfortable but that it feels like the district is rushing the process.  

“Are you really valuing the community’s input if you want to condense the time we had to actually give you our input?” she said. 

Greene said in a statement to Mississippi Today that the proposal was presented this fall because additional planning was needed before bringing it to the community as well as a desire to limit the interruption to learning.

“These discussions are very disturbing for communities and disruptive to schools,” he said. “I made the tough decision not to spread this over several months to try to limit the negative impact to teaching and learning for the children sitting in our classrooms today.”

Some speakers at the Tuesday meeting expressed frustration with the amount of money the district loses in payments to charter schools, particularly given those schools’ recent poor performance. The district has lost $48 million in payments to charters since 2015 according to a handout distributed at the meeting, nearly half of the total funding loss. 

Greene also shared more details Tuesday about possible use for the buildings on the closure list, identifying some to be leased, others to be redeveloped in partnership with the Jackson Redevelopment Authority, and some to be demolished. He emphasized that none of these plans have been finalized.

  • Lease: Siwell, Brinkley
  • Redevelop: Poindexter, Enochs, George, Bradley, Brown, Rowan, Barr
  • Demolish: French, Baxter, Key, Woodville Heights, Dawson, Raines

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson has also offered to help the district identify federal funds that could be used to help repurpose closed buildings.

Kemba Taylor, a McWillie Elementary parent, said that she understands the district has shrunk and perhaps students need to be moved, but worries the district is not leaving itself room for growth if they sell off or demolish buildings.

“If people do leave the charter schools and then with all the new babies being born, I think in 10 more years we might find ourselves in a new kind of bind,” she said. “These kids went somewhere, they might come back.”

Updated 11/16/23: This story has been updated to include Superintendent Errick Greene’s response to a parent’s question.

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.