Cedrick Gray, Jackson Public Schools superintendent, helped implement programs for JPS freshmen this school year, but fired four of his top administrators for an unknown reason.
Photo by Trip Burns.
While Jackson Public Schools has been very vocal about the changes it is implementing this year to help students excel, it has been less open about recent changes in their administration.
Alignment Jackson, a partnership between United Way, JPS, the Greater Jackson Chamber and the City of Jackson, is helping provide programs to students to improve their schooling experience and raise graduation rates.
JPS has a goal of increasing its graduation rate from 65 percent to 80 percent by 2024.
District spokesman Sherwin Johnson confirmed this week that four top administrative officials no longer work for the district as of the school year's start. Those fired include Chief Communications Officer Darryl Anderson, Information Technology Director Wiltz Cutrer, Executive Director of Academic Support for Middle Schools Vonda Beaty and Senior Systems Analyst Vincent Jennings.
Still, JPS moved forward with school program developments set forth in Alignment for the 2014-2015 school year. The biggest change is at the ninth-grade level. Ninth graders appear to be at greater risk of discontinuing school as they have the highest dropout rate of any grade.
Freshman Academy, which was implemented at the start of this school year, allows ninth graders to learn in what JPS Superintendent Cedrick Gray calls small learning cohorts. The entire class is split into teams of 150 students each who share the same six teachers. Classes are separate from the rest of the high school so students can "enjoy own individualized freshman experiences apart from rest of student body," Gray said.
Additionally, all ninth graders will receive MacBook computers installed with learning management systems that allow teachers to talk to students through their computers. "They are digital natives," Gray said of the students. "We can no longer ignore the way they learn. We have to approach them where they are."
Gray said ninth graders can experience a difficult transition to high school and be intimidated by older students, which means they require more attention. At an Alignment Jackson press conference, Gray recalled his first time in high school, walking into the building and "feeling immediately disengaged."
"What we want to be able to do now is to make sure we secure this critical time for ninth graders. Many students at this level feel overwhelmed, academically lost or intimidated by older students," Gray said.
Freshman Academy will allow high schools to address needs particular to ninth graders and better track their progress. Through Alignment, JPS will move toward the academy model, starting with ninth grade this year and transforming higher grades by the 2017-2018 school year.
"In order to change the trajectory of high school and performance, we must change the way we do high school," Gray said.
While Gray touts change, Johnson would not give reason for the JPS administration firings and told the JFP it was a "personnel matter" and he was "not going to comment regarding the circumstances regarding anyone's employment." Gray himself chose the administrative members who were fired.
Each of the employees was to receive a raise ranging from less than 1 percent to more than 7 percent starting in January.
Johnson said the positions have not been filled and that no plans to fill them are in place currently.