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Jackson Public Schools Fires 17 Employees, Consolidate Schools Over Testing Irregularities

A Jackson Public School District internal investigation into testing irregularities that Mississippi Department of Education identified resulted in several personnel actions, school staff changes, and the consolidation of Peeples and Whitten Middle Schools. Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

Jackson Public School officials have disciplined more than 40 employees following an investigation into Spring 2023 testing irregularities. The Mississippi Department of Education identified and brought the improprieties  to the attention of Superintendent Erick Greene.

“We are really disappointed that some of our folks chose to behave in this way,” the superintendent told the school board on September 5, 2023. “We believe that we are sending a message today that we will manage and address misconduct.”

The investigative team interviewed a third of the affected student population in each school and school staff. The team then summarized their findings and suggested follow-up interviews. They reported those findings to the deputy superintendent and general counsel. The district test coordinator also compared the MDE forensic data with each school’s testing plan.

The district cited violations of the Requirements of the Mississippi Statewide Assessment System Standard 16 Section 8-9 and terminated 17 staff members that they found to have committed flagrant violations or to have led other staff in committing violations. Three staff members will serve a 10-day suspension for lesser offenses and another 24 whose behavior was of concern received letters of reprimand. The district has submitted the names of all identified personnel to the Office of Educator Misconduct.

“As egregious, as concerning, as serious as these issues are, they are located in seven of our schools, four of which are located in an isolated grade and/or subject,” Greene told the school board. “It is not a district-wide issue and we stand on that and our data have revealed and supported that.”

“At the same time, we’re very concerned that this happened anywhere in our district. We believe very strongly in our responsibility to move children to high levels of performance,” he continued. “In this district, we will achieve at high levels. We say that and we believe that while also believing that we have the capacity to do that and that our scholars have the capacity to achieve at high levels and that we don’t need to cheat. We don’t need to skirt the lines or blur the lines in order to get ahead.”

An external view of Lanier High School
The Jackson Public School District found irregularities in English II testing conducted at Lanier High School. The Mississippi Department of Education will make a determination on whether the affected students will need to retest. Photo courtesy Sherwin Johnson

The staffing implications have significant consequences for some schools. The board voted to temporarily consolidate Peeples with Whitten Middle School beginning on Sept. 18. Due to staffing issues resulting from the disciplinary actions at Peeples Middle School, the school cannot continue to operate in its current state. Although the students will have combined classes and scheduling, there will be some continued delineation between the school cultures. Administrators from both schools will share the administrative responsibilities. Co-curricular and sports teams will continue for each of the separate schools. District officials will step in to provide instruction as the transition occurs.

“The middle-school division has a number of academic coaches that support their work. Those are all certified educators that support content area instruction around the division,” Deputy Superintendent Michael Cormack told board members. “They will be deployed to provide instruction at Peeples where there are those vacancies. As well, we have our Office of Teaching and Learning, and Dr. Smith and their team have committed resources and staff as well to ensure continuity of instruction for those scholars over this bridge period.”

Classroom mergers are also happening between students at Lester Elementary and Isable Elementary. Isable students are currently being housed at Lester during building renovations at Jim Hill High School. Teachers and personnel at McCleod are being reassigned from schools with smaller enrollments and classrooms are being collapsed.

Staffing shortages created by the personnel actions prompted the district to consolidate Peeples Middle School with Whitten Middle School beginning September 18, 2023. Photo courtesy Sherwin Johnson

Greene said that the district will be addressing improvements to test security including ensuring that teachers do not test the students they teach, collecting and consolidating test security plans and enhancing training and monitoring at the identified schools. The district is also ensuring that faculty, staff and community members are aware of the superintendent’s hotline for anonymous reporting. The district is also putting support plans in place for all affected students.

The district had until Sept. 6, 2023, to conduct their internal investigation and report their findings to MDE. The Mississippi Department of Education will now take the findings and determine if other actions are warranted. Those could include revocation of teacher licenses and/or criminal charges. Because the investigation is ongoing, the district cannot release the names of the individuals involved. Affected high-school students at Lanier could be required to retake the English II statewide exam. The exam is required for graduation.

Greene stated that although this incident occurred and the district will be cited, he is confident that the district will continue to improve.

“We fully expect that we will continue to see progress (and) that we will continue to see increased academic achievement from our scholars,” he said. “We don’t want this incident from this past year to completely sully the work of so many educators and scholars throughout the district.”

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