School system ‘paying attention’ to Vision 2020 input
By: Dr. Verna Ruffin on Oct 07, 2015
On behalf of the Jackson-Madison County School System, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to everyone who participated in September’s Vision 2020 public meetings.
We were pleased with the turnout and the informed feedback we received on the various alternatives. The school system wants you to know we heard the concerns and worries you have expressed in recent days; we are deeply impacted by the emotions generated by these discussions.
We are paying attention to you and are gaining valuable knowledge from each and every dialogue. Our district will continue to focus on the opportunities these changes will provide for our students to achieve greater levels of academic excellence.
I want to make sure everyone understands just how necessary this process is to the health of our school system. Our system is currently made up of 27 facilities that have the capacity to hold over 17,000 students. If we had enough students to fill the buildings, change of this magnitude would not be needed. But for the last several years, we have consistently had around 12,500 students enrolled in our district. This means that each year, we are cooling, heating and repairing buildings to house an extra 4,500 students we simply do not have.
In good conscience, we feel we must offer alternatives to the status quo. In the two years before I came to the Jackson-Madison County School System, the system was running at a deficit. Teachers had not had meaningful raises in years. The district was faced with severe funding issues.
While we have stabilized the system as much as possible, we are not being good stewards of our resources if we continue to operate all 27 facilities. Our aging buildings desperately require repairs. We need technology, textbooks and additional resources for our teachers. We feel it is imperative to utilize our funds intentionally and strategically to better our system.
One concern we have heard is a fear that closing schools will lead to overcrowding. This simply is not so. Each alternative allots for an elementary school class size of 20 students per class and a middle/high school classroom size of 25 students per class.
Many classes are bigger than this now, and that is one of the many things we hope to correct with the implementation of Vision 2020. We do not need to be afraid of running near capacity. Some of the district’s most successful schools are currently running close to capacity.
The opportunities ahead for our students are energizing and provide motivation for us to make these tough decisions. Each and every child who attends one of our schools has unique needs. Some are excelling and need to be challenged, while others are struggling and require extra resources, and many fall somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum. Regardless, we want each child to have his or her needs met, and this can only be done with the proper use of the resources we have available to us. Our goal with Vision 2020 is to improve our system so our students can benefit from the changes we make.
The next round of information pertaining to Vision 2020 will be presented on Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 6 p.m. at a special called board meeting that will be held in the Jack Morris Ballroom at the University of Memphis Lambuth campus. In the meantime, please visit www.jmcss2020.com to review the alternatives, sign up for email updates and ask us any questions you may have. I sincerely thank you for participating in this process with us and for wanting the best for our students.
Verna D. Ruffin, Ed. D., is the superintendent of Jackson-Madison County Schools.