Jeff Bryant: An unlikely city in the South could be home to a public education renaissance
Independent journalist Jeff Bryant brings a story of hope about Jackson, Mississippi, a city previously famous for terrible potholes and worse water. Mississippi has consistently underfunded its schools, and Jackson’s 95% Black system is no exception. But faced with the prospect of a state takeover, a coalition in Jackson came up with some alternatives.
One such alternative was to remake schools into community-based centers for providing student- and family-oriented supports and programs designed to address the high levels of poverty, homelessness, and mental and economic trauma in the district.
“We need schools that serve as hubs of the community,” Pam Shaw, a leading spokesperson for Our JPS at the time of writing the article for the Progressive, told me. “Communities should own that space and use it as a launching pad for everything children need.”
One philanthropic group advocating for the community schools approach in Jackson is the NEA Foundation, a Washington, D.C., based nonprofit founded by educators.
“We entered this work in Jackson at the invitation of Mississippi educators,” NEA Foundation president and CEO Sara Sneed told Our Schools. “There is enormous community pressure for positive change but also expectations that any effort to include community voice in the process will come with a fight.”
The NEA Foundation’s effort also targets two other communities in school districts in the South—Little Rock, Arkansas, and East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. But Sneed expects their work in Jackson to lead the initiative for spreading the community schools approach throughout the South.
“We want to make community schools a signature issue in Mississippi and believe the effort in Jackson is an opportunity to transform the education experiences of children in the South,” Sneed said.
“Legislators in Arkansas have shown support for the community schools approach,” she said. “In Louisiana, unfortunately, there are battles at the local level because of the charter school industry’s interests in taking their model for reform in New Orleans to East Baton Rouge.”
When asked whether the work her organization is engaged in presents any tension with the work done by BTC, Sneed said, “While the BTC may have fostered a much-needed collaboration, it didn’t come up with a strategy. Community schools are a strategy.”
There are right ways and wrong ways to use the “community schools” name, and the article talks about those as well.
There’s much more to read about this hopeful development in Jackson. Read the full article here.