JPS Rezoning Plans
For the PPSJ May Lunch Bunch, we invited Mr. Eric Stringfellow to speak to parents and community members about the recently board-approved rezoning plans for JPS, which will affect nearly all students in the district, but especially schools that currently operate special programs such as APAC or IB. Stringfellow, spokesman for the district rezoning plans, deferred to Dr. Jayne Sargent, currently interim superintendent for JPS. Dr. Sargent addressed the many concerns parents and community members have shown over the recently released rezoning plans. Below is a transcript of Dr. Sargent’s address to the Lunch Bunch crowd and the questions that were answered in the time allotted. The district has promised to answer additional questions and post this information on the JPS website, which you can find at www.jackson.k12.ms.us.
“As leaders in the community, we need to encourage each other. This is what’s best for our children.”
Dr. Jayne Sargent, “I am only one of the authors of the plan. When I started (this school year), quite a bit was lacking and that is not to criticize anyone, it happens over time. The truth of the matter, [rezoning] didn’t fall out of the sky yesterday. We had been talking as a staff. JPS has not undergone rezoning plan like this since the 1980s. I live in Jackson. I pay taxes in Jackson. When we rezoned before, in the 80s, JPS was not 98% African-American. We were under a racial obligation then, we were required to do that. That was the last total rezoning the district has had. Everything has changed since then. The face of people doesn’t look the same in South Jackson anymore. It’s a different place in South Jackson now. It’s a different face in Northeast Jackson today. JPS today is about 98% African American. We didn’t have any reason to rezone [this yea] other than a financial one. The truth of the matter is that JPS was one step from broke when I took over this year. I don’t know any way to call it but the truth. You’re not surprised if you live in the city of Jackson; the city is in trouble. We don’t have a lot of tax base. I pay taxes, high taxes at that, like many of you. I love this city. I have been here since coming to Tougaloo College. This city is home to me. I want it to thrive; our children in this city deserve everything. It was time for us to bite the bullet. If we’re looking out for the future of the city, we have to look at this from a financial perspective. We were a district in financial trouble on July 1st when I walked through the door. I had to do something to help save it. So, we had to have conversations. This is what we had to do. Central office was pretty heavy at the top. It’s not so heavy anymore. We didn’t start with rezoning. Our special needs program is in serious trouble. We have nearly 30,000 students and 3,000 are special needs students. I can’t believe it’s that many students in trouble. We have to speak to that. We have to look seriously at this. We will have a state of the art special needs program. JPS is committed to serving children, not the needs of adults. That’s my only commitment; it’s what I have tried to live in my career in public education. It’s been a lot of us to share in this conversation. What is the best for children?
“The only way, and you all know this to be true, the only way you can impact the budget is by people. I didn’t want to go on record as firing a lot of people with our economy like this. Let’s do this fairly, for the sake of children, not to the chagrin of adults. If you think I’m lying, go choose a school and visit it. Some schools like APAC, it’s not new, we’ve had IB now for years with the early years at Davis (Elementary), and it’s doing exceptionally well. We didn’t put in new programs [with the rezoning]. Let’s look at how we can restructure so we can save money and not fire teachers, because that’s the vast majority of our budget: it’s people. All children at Davis are in the IB program. Chastain, Siwell, Powell, Peeples, NW Jackson, McWillie, Van Winkle – these are schools within schools. We cannot touch high schools, we don’t have enough space for that. We couldn’t touch Murrah for that same reason. We have no space to do that. We could touch those other schools. If you were to visit any of them, you would not be surprised, if you would walk in the door and ask to go to one of the IB or APAC classes and see 10 children in a classroom, 8 children in a classroom and then go down the hall and see 27 in a regular classroom. Where’s the equity in that? Don’t you see that costs so much to have a teacher for 10, but if you have them all together, children are served more equitably. I’m trying to help the district be a better steward of all of our tax dollars. That’s all. There’s no ulterior motive and my aim is not to hurt, but to help. I’ve been an educator who cares about children. Some of my children when I was a principal are here today. I cared about children then, I care about them now. I have grandchildren in the district today, four little boys; their parents live here in this city and pay taxes in this city. I care about the city of Jackson and care enormously about the children in the city of Jackson. If we don’t do something to educate these children, we’re going to lose this city. We can’t get caught up in what’s bad about this. What could be good about this? Many times people have such selfish motives. It’s human nature. No one likes change, I don’t, but sometimes it’s necessary. This time, folks, JPS is in trouble. We’re in trouble financially. I can’t tell you how much money we’re going to save just with one simple decision. This is not an easy one, one that makes it such that parents will be so pleased at, but it’s necessary if we’re going to keep public education in our community. It’s more than necessary, it’s absolutely, I can’t kid you. I’ve said to people, quite honestly, numerously, if I’d known it was this much in trouble when I began in July, I’d have stayed in retirement. [Laughter] We did this [rezoning] together as a staff, it has not been easy for me, because I get stuck with the decisions. I want you to know, sincerely, that this was made for the benefit of children. I can assure you this is going to help, this is going to help. I wish you could see it from my lens. Our special needs program will be so strong next year, it has been approved and will be rolled out, the rest of the nation will want to borrow this. I believe those children deserve a better chance than what they’ve been given and I know those parents agree. I’m just trying to make decisions for the good of the children.”
How can we get a map of what is being rezoned? The maps will be on the website: schools affected and general map of district. The zone lines are as clean as I’ve ever seen them. It makes good sense that children from this community go to this school [nearby]. You remember when we did the rezoning when we were trying to desegregate, we had subzones. We had some communities that were largely African American, some largely white. The city has changed now, we don’t have to do that anymore. We can have neighborhood schools now.
As a parent of a Bradley student, why is a high performing school being closed? Not a lot of families live in that area. This made Bradley a 3-5 school because it served children in a certain area, Dawson is the sister school serving grades K-2. Dawson and Bradley were both K-5 schools before, so we’re making Dawson a K-5 school again (newer building). Let’s put children back to a complete K-5 school. They are a community of children. As far as building a new school, we’re so broke, we’re not doing anything. This is truthfully. We’ve done some things over the years.
Is it possible that we can get info on the names of the schools affected? Please look at the website. Citywide, most of the schools will be affected. Montessori program will go only to McWillie. The IB program will only be at Northwest Jackson Middle School. APAC middle school students will all move to Bailey. Bailey students will go to Murrah, Callaway, and Lanier. Some kids at Murrah will go to Callaway. The IB high school will stay at Jim Hill. APAC at Forest Hill will all go to Murrah. Our high schools… we are trying to get them all to the same size. As it happens, when you see the new zone lines, you will see the sizes will become more equitable. Our high schools have been across the board lately…some are 4A, some are 5A, 6A…if we can get them to the same size, that will be stronger. This will be on the website and the Bailey maps will be up today. We are building the maps, tweaking. Priority is to get the information to you. We are starting with info about Bailey. That will be out today (Tuesday). In South Jackson, some schools are bursting at the seams, some are under capacity. This can be disruptive. Hopefully, this will address that. This should alleviate some of the space issues in South Jackson. At last night’s meeting, one parent asked about two middle schools being recently built (three). Cardozo and Kirksey are new to district. Why would you take a high school when we just got two new middle schools was the question. When Cardozo was built, understanding overpopulation, we wanted a school built to house 850 children, but we got a building for 650 children and it is at capacity. Kirksey, because of overpopulation at Chastain, should have housed 650, but we got a school to house 400 children. The city does a great job of communicating growth – new housing development being built (part one in South Jackson near Siwell Rd MS and in near future, second part will double housing), now we know we will have to house students there. We know we will have to house students there. There is a method in the madness.
How will transportation be handled for students moving from APAC to Murrah? All students will be bussed. You may pass a JPS bus and not see the 2-3 students on it, back and forth, crossing paths. We have to transport the IB and APAC students. We don’t have to take one or two, we can take a busload. Buses need gas and the price is up, this is hard on district resources to pay. That should help save, not as much. But students in a subzone going to a school across town, no, we will go to neighborhood schools.
Will APAC performing arts be held at Power APAC or Bailey? Power. Always performing arts will be there. We cannot afford to do this anymore. No children will be walking school to school. Students will be bussed.
As for sports, athletic program, etc., we will have them. They will have the same things they’ve always had.
Thank you for your patience. Eric is available for another meeting as needed. His cell number is 601.983.9490.
Answers to questions not addressed will be posted on JPS website. Currently, one map is already posted: http://www.jackson.k12.ms.us/content.aspx?url=/page/press&nid=815.