The Jackson Public School District Board of Trustees fired Dr. Gray. However, Dr. Gray didn't leave without defending himself in a column published in the Clarion-Ledger. JJ is going to set the record straight because Dr. Gray took no responsibility for anything as he made excuses and cast blame anywhere he could.
Let me begin by saying what an honor it has been to serve the citizens, parents and students of Jackson as superintendent. I thank the Board of Trustees for giving me the opportunity to become lead teacher for Jackson Public Schools. Jackson has some of the best students and educators in the country.
Upon my arrival to Jackson in 2012, the headlines for the district read, “JPS is Broke!” and “JPS Placed on Probation.” JPS was disputing with the city of Jackson ad valorem taxes and addressing concerns with the bus drivers for a raise in pay. We were operating with a below-functional fund balance, or rainy day fund, while struggling with the perception of a top-heavy cdentral office.
In the time that I have been here, I am proud that we reduced central office personnel by 5 percent and increased the fund balance from $3.5 million to $15.1 million. We also lifted the district from the threat of lawsuit by completing the Corrective Action Plan, which was created to remove the district from probation for violations in how scholars with special needs are educated.
Dr. Gray speaks truth. The district was so poorly run that it had not provided a mandatory annual audit in three years. The new Superintendent made that one of his first priorities. JPS is in somewhat better financial shape than it was five years ago. However, less than 44% of the employees are teachers. Better-run school districts have a workforce that is more than 50% teachers. JPS spends nearly $60 million more per year than Desoto County even though Desoto has more students (and more IEP students as well).
Bus transportation was also a huge challenge, but we met it with resolve and a solid plan. Our buses are much closer to being on time now despite transporting scholars to special programs across town every morning and afternoon. This was achieved without outsourcing our transportation services.
Uh-huh. The MDE Audit stated that buses were late delivering students to several high schools. There is no excuse for even one bus running late on a regular basis. He had five years to fix this problem and yet he can only brag that his buses are "much closer" to being on time. What would another five years bring in regards to this problem?
We have increased major partnerships to include Alignment Jackson, Hope Community Credit Union, Rickey Smiley Foundation, Kellogg Foundation and many, many more. This is attributed to strategic planning and through building trust and relationships that have improved the educational opportunities of our city’s children.
I, like many others, am disappointed that our district is currently labeled F. We were only 16 points from a D. It is promising that our scores went up and not down. However, the cut scores for an A letter grade were lowered and the cut scores for F were raised by the Mississippi Department of Education for all school districts across the state. In 2014, we had 17 F schools and reduced them to two. We still have the top-rated elementary and middle schools in the state of Mississippi. The governor and state superintendent both agree that it is not fair to be punitive about a test result after the first time taking the test.
Funny. The Rankin County, Madison County, Pearl, Clinton, and Hinds County public school districts did not suffer lower ratings even with the changes. Hmm.... no one but JPS has a problem. Maybe the problem is Dr. Gray and JPS. Dr. Gray's use of the "top rated" schools in Mississippi is somewhat of a rhetorical trick. The schools he cites are magnet schools. In other words, the students are cherry-picked. He is comparing two specialized magnet schools (with entrance exams) to regular schools throughout the state. Those two schools should rank higher than regular schools.
What Dr. Gray does not say is that the number of failing schools doubled during his second year of tenure. The number of failing schools got back to where he started the next year and then fell some more last year. JPS literally took two steps back and one step forward under his leadership.
The third-grade reading gate showed that several so-called "A" schools saw a quarter of their students fail the reading test. Several elementary schools saw nearly half of their students fail the test. Dr. Gray opposed the reading-gate tests but JPS improved last year. Dr. Gray sees a D rating as success. Most middle and high schools are still a D or an F five years later. Most of his improvement has come from improvement among elementary schools are higher-level schools that moved from F to D. That is what passes for success with the departed Superintendent.
Another major challenge are charter schools that are also struggling academically to meet the state’s new testing standards. Their D and F letter grades reflect the same academic challenges as many other public schools across the state.
Fair enough. However, look at the ratings of the feeder schools for those charter schools and one will see what the problem is. Reimagine Prep showed substantial improvement among its worst students. The kids started in fifth grade- after four years of poor education in JPS. Give them another year or two. They can handle the criticism. See Nick Saban's first year at Alabama.
Over the last three years, we have increased the graduation rate and lowered the dropout rate. In the Hechinger report from Oct. 27, Andre Perry indicated that JPS has a high poverty rate and has been under-funded for years. According to the writer, JPS has battled underfunding but has still done more with less. Graduation rates increased almost 3.5 percent in one year. Attendance increased while discipline violations decreased for high school freshmen. Third-grade proficiency rates increased 8 percent in one year.
Higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates are indeed good things. JPS indeed has a high poverty rate and unfortunately, a high rate of single-parent homes among students. It is hard to take Dr. Gray's claims that JPS is underfunded when JPS is top-heavy and spends nearly $60 million more than Desoto County even though it has 2,000 fewer students. JPS also spends much more money per student than the other Jackson metro area public school districts.
Then there is the Kingfish's personal favorite: The professional service fees for the refinance of the 2007 bonds. JPS refinanced $118 million in bonds last year. JPS paid $548,000 for the first bond issue. JPS spent $1.2 million for the refinance. $348,000 for a financial adviser. $600,000 for lawyers. It was Christmas time indeed for the favored few at JPS. Dr. Grey even tried to award a $500,000 contract to the same financial adviser to draft a budget but the school board for once did its duty and stopped that madness. Don't take JJ's word for it, read the post for yourself. That extra $652,000 could pay for quite a few uniforms for students and pay some salaries for teachers but I digress. Dr. Gray isn't through tooting his own horn.
There is also one subject that Dr. Gray glossed over- school discipline. It is quite telling that he claimed there were fewer incidents among freshman. What about the other eleven grades? The MDE audit ripped his record on school discipline to pieces. 25% of the school resource officers were not certified. There were numerous fights at schools. JPS employees are not allowed to contact JPD. Students and teachers were seen playing around on cellphones in class. A parent waved a gun at one high school. JPS tried to cover up the injuries one 13-year old suffered. Students roam the halls and leave campus at will at several schools. Read the whole sordid post about the school discipline. Of course, Dr. Gray didn't mention any of these problems in his column. He ignored them as he did so many other problems.
During my tenure, there were many accomplishments. We migrated the district’s email to the cloud by utilizing Microsoft Office 365 at a significant cost savings, which eliminated mailbox size restrictions for teachers and principals. We launched the district to its first-ever 1:1 digital initiative, in which all ninth-grade high school students in JPS were given access to a laptop computer. We hired more than 500 certified teachers, implemented an automated substitute teacher placement process, eliminated long lines and waiting by launching online registration, increased the district’s fund balance by nearly 50 percent and implemented a new website at the district and school levels.
He served as superintendent for five years and he first brags about changing email systems? New websites? digital initiatives? These are his major accomplishments? He may have hired 500 certified teachers but that MDE audit said
Many professional positions in the District are filled by staff who do not hold a valid Mississippi Teacher’s License or who are not properly endorsed for the subject they are teaching. (p.14)Now it's time to shoot the messenger:
The District has a high teacher turnover rate and teacher abandonment of jobs....
79 of the 1643 certified teachers employed by the District are working outside their areas of certification in academic core subjects. Approximately 200 of the 1643 teachers have no certification or are improperly certified. (p.16).. Read it for yourself.
As a leader, I expect and am accustomed to public criticism, but I admit it is disheartening when a group of misinformed individuals use social and traditional media to spread gossip, rumors and lies about the work of our amazing students, brilliant educators and dedicated administrators.
Oh really? Dr. Gray refused to talk to this correspondent. Emails were sent and message to call back were left with Dr. Gray. Dr. Gray does respond to criticism or answer critical questions. Every post about JPS has been supported with facts, videos, and documents. Period. However, Dr. Gray patted himself on the back as he closed out his defense:
Despite the recent audits by MDE and poor academic rating, I have had three successful evaluations and had just received a contract extension. Additionally, we were poised to both clear the audit and make the grade in the spring. With support from U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. and national relationships brought forth through the National Association of School Superintendents as Superintendent of the Year, we were destined for greatness.
Cedrick Gray is the former superintendent of Jackson Public Schools.
That is the problem, Dr. Gray. The school board doesn't exactly deserve any stellar ratings. MDE said the school board:
The school board has failed to effectively perform its duties in its role of oversight of management for the District as prescribed by law.
Dr. Gray gives the typical excuses one hears when a losing football coach is fired. We finally have a great recruiting class. We finally got the right mix of coaches on the staff. We were getting it turned around. Dr. Gray took a D school district and turned it into an F. There was little improvement among the middle schools and high schools while the few elementary schools that did well were specialized schools. JPS didn't get more efficient in how it spent its money. The MDE Audit was damning yet Dr. Gray could not even see fit to submit a response. He did manage to find the time to grandstand for the tv cameras and claim how unfair the whole process was.
This farewell column shows that Dr. Gray still doesn't get it. The column brings to mind this old passage from a sci-fi novel:
The analysis was the most difficult of the three by all odds. When Holk, after two days of steady work, succeeded in eliminating meaningless statements, vague gibberish, useless qualifications in short, all the goo and dribble he found he had nothing left. Everything canceled out."Good riddance to this clown.
"Lord Dorwin, gentlemen, in five days of discussion didn't say one damned thing, and said it so you never noticed.
Kingfish note: Save the severance pay for another discussion. A public records request was submitted to JPS. A post on the subject will be published when those records are obtained.