- Associated Press - Thursday, December 14, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi’s Board of Education on Thursday delayed a decision on whether to incorporate two rural districts into a statewide district aimed at improving academic performance.

But board members on Thursday did vote to exclude schools in Jackson, home to the state’s second-largest district, from the new achievement district, saying an alternative process that averted a takeover under a second route should get a chance to work there.

Board members said Thursday that they were uncomfortable moving ahead with a decision on schools in Humphreys County and Noxubee County without knowing whom they would hire as superintendent of the new achievement school district.

A committee in November had recommended that the board consider the two districts for the new achievement school district.

“I’d rather delay and get as much information as possible,” said board member Johnny Franklin of Bolton.

The board will decide later, possibly in February, on whether Humphreys and Noxubee will become part of the district.

Gov. Phil Bryant in November rejected a state takeover of Jackson schools and opted for an approach that would allow the local school board to remain. But the possibility of state control of Jackson schools resurfaced when a committee was scrutinizing which districts were eligible for inclusion in the achievement school district, which can take over districts that score an F on the state’s grading system for two years in a row. Unlike a traditional takeover for rules violations, Bryant doesn’t have to approve a district being rolled into the achievement school district.

Board members Thursday were quick to dismiss the idea that the new district should include Jackson.

“I think it would be pretty harsh at the point with momentum to change Jackson Public Schools building to put them in the achievement school district and let all that momentum go to waste,” said board member Charles McClelland. He co-chairs a community board aiming to suggest improvements in Jackson.

The achievement school district is an attempt to improve the academic performance of long-struggling schools. It could take over schools rated F by the state for two straight years, or any district rated F for two of three years. A school would remain under state control at least until it scores a C rating or better for five years. Board member Karen Elam objected to calling inclusion in it a takeover, although as with a traditional takeover the local school board would be abolished and the superintendent fired.

“It’s a privilege to be included in this district that really will be the shining light of what’s possible in this state,” Elam said.

The original plan was to hire a superintendent first, but that got thrown off track earlier this year when the first search failed to produce a candidate and board members demanded more involvement. The delay could mean that it’s February or later before the board decides if it will include both Noxubee and Humphreys, only one, or none.

Noxubee County Superintendent Roger Liddell, interviewed after the meeting, would say only that “we’re not out of the woods yet.”

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at https://www.apnews.com/search/Jeff_Amy .


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