Mississippi News Nonprofit Two Delta school districts will come under the state’s leadership in Mississippi’s Achievement School District. It is set to open June 1. Humphreys and Yazoo City Municipal will be the two initial members of the state-run district. This district is responsible for turning around schools that are struggling. Five districts were considered for membership in the achievement district at the April 11 Mississippi State Board of Education meeting. They had a history of poor academic performance. However, the board chose Yazoo City, Humphreys, and Yazoo City because they received the lowest rating of all five. The achievement district was created by the Legislature during the 2016 legislative session. It is intended to transform persistently failing public schools throughout the state into high-quality educational institutions. However, the Mississippi Department of Education struggled to find a superintendent to oversee it. Jason Dean, the chair of the state Board of Education stated that they won’t hire anyone on an arbitrary timeframe just to tick a box. “We weren’t satisfied with the initial rounds of applicants so we went back at the drawing board.” The meeting saw Jermall Wright, the new leader of the district. Wright, who is currently chief academic and accountability officer for Birmingham City Schools, has extensive experience in school turnarounds in Denver and Alabama. Dean stated that Wright would be based in Jackson, and will begin his duties no later than June 1. A district can join the ASD in three ways. * A district must have an F accountability rating for at least two consecutive years or twice over a three year period. * 50% or more of a school’s schools are rated as F. Humphreys County, a 97 per cent black district with 1,580 students, received an F rating in 2017-18. Yazoo City, a 98 per cent black district that has 2,422 students enrolled in the 2017-18 school year, also received an F rating. Both districts’ elementary and middle schools received F ratings, while their high schools received D ratings. Mississippi Today attempted to reach both districts but was not answered. The state Board of Education will replace the local school boards and Wright will report directly to it. A district must have earned a C or better for five consecutive years in order to be considered an achievement district. This is required by state law. Adrienne Hudson, a former educator and administrator, is the founder of RISE Inc., a grassroots education nonprofit. She says there are many reasons Delta districts, like these two, struggle to meet Mississippi’s accountability standards. Hudson stated that the country’s poverty rates are among the highest in the country. Therefore, it is important to be realistic about the consequences of poverty. According to census data, 48 percent of children aged 5-17 in the Yazoo City Municipal Schools District are living in poverty. In Humphreys County that number is 52 percent. The Annie E. Casey Foundation data shows that the median Humphreys County household income was $26,489. The median household income in Yazoo County was $33,051. We have Delta children who have been traumatized by events beyond their control. All of us know this and all agree that it is true. But what can we do to change that? All seems to be punitive. Hudson stated that instead of asking how we can go into schools districts and provide more resources, we are saying these children aren’t performing.” Hudson suggested that the state consider increasing funding for districts such as this to hire counselors, social workers, and nurses. Officials from the Department of Education stated that districts won’t receive additional funding to be an achievement district school. Hudson noted that rural Delta areas have lower enrollment rates than those in larger metropolitan areas. This makes it easier for them to be classified as an achievement district school. Hudson is based in Clarksdale, but she works with all districts in the Delta. She stressed that the state must support schools and that officials should include them in any improvements. She said that if the state takes over a district and removes local control, it can cause resentment in communities. Instead of being taught how to improve things, they can tell them what to do. Hudson stated that there are many people who do not believe people from the Delta can help themselves. “I know there’s work to do in my community. But the answer cannot be’somebody save me. “State officials stated that they plan to host community meetings in future, but didn’t specify when. Dean stated that they want to collaborate with the communities to find solutions to their educational problems. Let’s be real. “This is not the first time they have heard about the challenges facing the school district.” The state can also take control of a school district by using the district transformation model. This model has been used 20 times to take over school districts since 1996. Dean, the chair of the state board, stated that he views the “district of transformation” as an emergency situation. “You don’t have to wait three years to see that your F is here.” If the Commission on School Accreditation or the Mississippi State Board of Education decide that an extreme emergency exists they can ask that the governor declare a status of emergency to allow the state to take over the district and make it a District of Transformation. The local school board is disbanded and the superintendent is replaced by a conservator. This is done until the district achieves a rating of C for five years. The governor can declare a state of emergency for any of these three reasons: * The State Board of Education and Commission on School Accreditation each determine an extreme emergency exists in a school district that threatens the safety, security and educational interests of students or is related to serious accreditation violations * A school district is a failing district for two consecutive years * More than half of a district’s schools are designated as “at risk” or a school remains at-risk after three years of implementing an improvement plan The Leflore County School District, Tunica County School District, and Noxubee County School District are each currently districts of transformation.