The Jackson Public Schools board meeting May 1 was packed. Parents and students who had recently learned about the district's rezoning plan lined the walls and stood in the halls to protest the plan, which will close schools and shift students around in the district. Many got up during the public comment period and begged the board to reconsider. Then most of them left.
It's understandable for people to be upset, especially juniors at Bailey Magnet High School whobe scattered among three other high schools for their senior year in a cost-saving measure. But the district has been having financial problems and tight budgets for years, which has not been helped by the flight of many families, and their tax support, from Jackson. A policy that could help the district financially without firing teachers deserves serious and clear-headed consideration.
There is also a lesson in engagement here, in a crisis that did not happen overnight and actually started building when the U.S. Supreme Court forced public schools to integrate in early 1970, starting suburban flight and subsequent re-segregation that ultimately hurts our children more than anyone else.
If as many people came to school-board meetings and really paid attention to education policy, maybe JPS would be having far fewer problems in all areas at this stage. Every two weeks, the board meets at 5:30 p.m. before an almost-empty room. The front-left side is filled with JPS employees, and the right is sprinkled with a few parents, education advocates and reporters. Sometimes one of the usual suspects takes the proffered microphone to point out a problem or express appreciation.
Usually, though, the time allotted for public comment goes by without any input from the community, so board members don't know how the public wants them to vote on issues such as sex-education policy, music education, money for soccer fields and all the little things that go into running a school system.
Democracy doesn't mean electing representatives and then washing our hands of the complicated business of governing. The next time you read an article and cry, "What was the City Council (or school board or Legislature) thinking? This isn't what we want!", ask yourself where you were when they voted and when they were discussing the issue. Did you hear the gloomy budget predictions that they heard, and did you tell them what you, as a citizen, wanted them to prioritize now?
We suspect that the rezoning decisions will stand. But it is an opportunity to follow the lead of the Bailey students who are getting engaged thanks to the plan. If we choose to, we can become more educated both about the difficult history of public education in Jackson, as well as on the policy and budget decisions JPS will continue to make going forward. What will you choose?
I wondered to myself "wow, why don't these parents ever show up at the PTA meetings?" It's always the same parents who show up. Age-old question, "How do we engage parents?"
This is a great editorial. Couldn't agree with it more.
It's not like we are trying not to be engaged. Look at that, a 5:30pm meeting. You don't want us to make it there. I have yet to have a single school person interested in anything I have to say. They think their degrees buy them a view I can't possibly possess. Parents are also extended to their limits. We work long hours, both of us to afford any kind of life, we have to supervise how much homework in the evenings? We are stretched as far as we can go emotionally, financially, mentally, and time wise. You can't get blood from a turnip. Most of us are so close to the edge in some way, we just can't fit any more in and when I see articles like this I know it was written by someone who doesn't have those struggles or you'd know why we aren't there. I drive by the JPS offices all the time, I see those nice luxury cars out there. If this district gave a crap about anyone they'd stop these huge administration salaries and put that money into useful things. And quit with the uniforms. How can I have any respect for you when you want to come into my home and pocketbook and tell me what I'm going to put my child in? So you want to hear what I think but you don't think I am capable of buying my child's clothes? Bull hockey!
- Jenni Watson