For weeks, plans had been made for the Jackson Public Schools Board of Trustees to vote on a proposed optimization plan during its December 5, 2023 meeting. Nevertheless, several days prior to the 5th, it was announced that there would only be an information session at that time and that the vote on the plan would take place on December 19, 2023.
Plans had been altered as a result of concerns registered by citizens at the public hearings held across the city in October and November. Consequently, when the board of trustees met on December 5, 2023, the superintendent, Dr. Erick Greene, revealed a revised plan, which was based upon concerns expressed by citizens.
The biggest change in the revised plan was that three elementary schools had been removed from the closure list. Those were Clausell Elementary School in West Jackson, Key Elementary School in South Jackson, and Green Elementary School in North Jackson. Apparently, residents in those neighborhoods were able to convince Dr. Greene that those schools should remain open. They had all done well on the last ratings and/or showed a great deal of promise for the immediate future.
The revised plan also showed that Obama Elementary School and Wells Elementary School had been removed from the list of proposed closures for the upcoming school year. They, however, were only removed from the list for one year, apparently because repairs and renovations are needed in the locations to which they would move. It is now proposed that their moves would not occur until the 2025-26 school year.
Those revisions were welcomed news to many, although Wingfield High School, Whitten Middle School, and Chastain Middle School remain recommended for closure for the 2024-25 school year. The revisions were welcomed news to the neighborhoods in which the spared schools are located. The fact that there were revisions in the first place indicated that the JPS administration has been listening.
A second area in which there were revisions made, based upon comments from citizens, was the matter of repurposing the buildings that were being recommended for closure. After introducing three possible actions that could be taken regarding the vacant buildings, the superintendent commented on ideas that had been presented but not necessarily entertained by the administration.
He indicated that the selling or leasing of the properties for Shirley Elementary School, Brinkley Middle School, Barr Elementary School, Rowan Middle School, Siwell Road Middle School, and Watkins Elementary School had been mentioned by some individuals either because of the location or the condition of the facility. Properties for Barr Elementary School, Brown Elementary School, Enochs Middle School, George Elementary School, and Poindexter Elementary School had been under discussion as sites for possible redevelopment. The properties for Baker Elementary School, Dawson Elementary School, French Elementary School, Raines Elementary School, and Woodville Heights Elementary School were all considered as buildings to be demolished, with the possibility of creating more “green space.”
Going further on the idea of repurposing school buildings, the superintendent discussed the idea of creating a Facilities Redevelopment Advisory Committee that would study its facilities and make recommendations to the board; hire a professional consultant to lead that effort; and engage in fundraising to support the redevelopment ideas.
After the presentation by Dr. Greene, there was a lengthy period of questions and comments from the board members. Among the new, significant matters which they raised were: (1) assuring that the reduction in force extends to the central office and not just to the staff at the individual schools and in auxiliary services, (2) taking care to retain the names of honored citizens for whom the closed schools had been named, (3) developing ways to promote unity at the merged schools so that neither set of students is left out or made to appear secondary, and (4) coordinating with Hinds County officials so that precincts remain accessible in all areas affected by the school closures.
Interest in these matters of promoting the public schools is likely to remain high. Although only four citizens offered public comments during the meeting, there were a number of others present. Even more citizens are expected at the December 19, 2023, meeting when the proposal will be debated and voted up or down.