- Associated Press - Thursday, August 10, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Having spent a year on probation, Mississippi’s second largest school district could learn within weeks whether the state is going to take control of it.

The state Department of Education completed an investigation into the Jackson school district on July 31 and is scheduled to release its results on Aug. 31, The Clarion-Ledger reported. That report will influence whether Jackson regains state accreditation or is taken over for violating state standards.

The district was put on probation last year for violating 22 of 32 state accrediting standards, prompting the state to launch a larger investigation.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Interim Superintendent Freddrick Murray expressed confidence that the district is making progress in combating late buses, which has been a repeated criticism of the state and parents.

Seven of the district’s 208 bus routes were late on Tuesday, according to a progress report provided by Murray. Some arrived after the start of the school day, he explained, because they returned to pick up students who were not at the bus stop on time.

“The goal this year is to have on-time arrival for each of our students every day,” Murray said.

Consulting firm Bailey Education Group told the Jackson board that the district had completed 88 percent of its corrective plan ahead of a June 30 deadline.

State officials have already cleared the district of some violations. Those violations include the district’s strategic plan, professional development and some parts of professional licensure for teachers.

The initial look, at a minority of Jackson schools, faulted the district for discipline practices and questioned the effectiveness of teaching at a number of schools. The audit cited concerns including students and parents roaming halls, violent fights, overstretched safety personnel and rules against employees calling Jackson city police. Auditors said they sometimes observed classes where students were using cell phones instead of studying, or where teaching consisted only of handing out worksheets.

Other concerns included records so poor that seniors might graduating without meeting state requirements, tardy and unsafe buses, and school board members acting improperly by giving orders to school employees.

The district denied some of the allegations, but local board members later forced out Superintendent Cedrick Gray over concerns about the probationary status and the district’s F rating under the state’s grading system. The local board itself has seen a number of resignations, and briefly had too few members to conduct business.

State Superintendent Carey Wright warned the Jackson board in December that it needed to urgently attack the district’s problems. Murray has said he’s trying to instill that sense of urgency.

The state almost took over Jackson schools in 2012 because of special education violations but backed away. Wright said she won’t hesitate on a takeover if that’s what’s needed.

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