Many Jackson residents, especially those who are also graduates of Jackson Public Schools (JPS), were surprised and concerned to learn of the declining enrollment in the city’s public schools. They realized that the city’s census showed a decline from 202,895 in 1980 to 153,701 in 2020. They had not been apprised, however, of the fact that the district’s public school enrollment had dropped during the same period from more than 32,000 to less than 20,000. There was a hint of the problem when news reports began referring to the Jackson Public School District (JPSD) as the second largest district in the state. The DeSoto County School had eclipsed JPS by 2,008.
At the beginning of the population decline, Enochs Junior High School closed its doors to students and has since served as an administrative campus for the district. Since that time, 15 other schools have closed their doors to students. Some of them, like Enochs, have been re-purposed. Most, however, have remained vacant.
The roll call of schools that have closed since publication of the 1980 census due to low enrollment includes:
• Baker Elementary – 2019
• Barr Elementary – 2020
• Bradley Elementary – 2012
• Brown Elementary – 2018
• Duling Elementary School – 2006
• French Elementary School – 2018
• George Elementary School – 2018
• Hardy Middle School –- 2020, currently being renovated for another purpose
• Poindexter Elementary – re-purposed in 2017
• Rowan Middle School – 2017
• Siwell Road Middle School –2020
• Van Winkle Elementary School – 2020, re-purposed as a Pre-K school
• Woodville Heights Elementary School – 2018
• Watkins Elementary School – 2021
Some of the surprise regarding the enrollment decline stems from the fact that a school bond measure was passed in 2007 that resulted in the building of three new schools – Bates Elementary School, Cardozo Middle School, and Kirksey Middle School. That gave the impression that there was a growth rather than decline in enrollment. In addition to that, the bond measure also was supposed to have provided money to build a new school on West Capitol Street to accommodate students from Poindexter Elementary and Barr Elementary. The West Capitol school project fell through, but another bond measure was passed in 2018. On both votes, citizens were assured that improvements would be made on a number of the then existing schools, but to the many voters, some of those schools were soon closed.
The enrollment decline has resulted from family migrations to Madison County, Rankin County, Clinton, and other parts of Hinds County. The passage of the Charter School bill in 2013 was another contributor to the decline. Too much JPS property is now vacant; too many schools have been closed.
Considering the school closures, at least one charter school group has requested to lease one of the JPS vacant school buildings. The charter school law enables charter schools in the city to have first choice in leasing any JPS surplus real property. The same threat is not there when it comes to the other public school districts. If or when other charter schools are permitted to set up shop in Jackson, for each student that they enroll, JPS would have to surrender approximately $10,000 per pupil of its state-allocated funds per year.
Rather than allow the declining enrollment and subsequent school closures to benefit the charter schools and surrounding public school districts, many Jackson residents and JPS alumni are offering to assist the district in finding/developing programs and services that will benefit students and the communities near those campuses.
There is also the possibility of there being a surge in enrollment down the line. Meanwhile, the property can be serving the city in other ways. After all, as in most schools, there are community institutions serving more than just currently enrolled students.
The concerned Jackson residents and JPS alumni are stepping forward to act on what they see as threats to the existing municipal public schools.