A monthly bulletin of news and analysis from Mississippi First

IN THIS EDITION:


EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NOTE
CHARTER SCHOOLS
CHART INITIATIVE
PRE KINDERGARTEN
SCHOOL TURNAROUND
EDUCATION AROUND THE STATE

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EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NOTE
A quick update about MSF
Welcome to the re-designed Mississippi First monthly newsletter! We are very excited to share with you the exciting things that have happened in our world in the last several months.
  • Big Wins– This past spring was our most successful legislative session ever. We passed both a charter school law and a state-funded preK law. In this issue, you will find information on the current status of the implementation of those two laws.
  • New Staff– Due in part to our great success, we have received several new grants that have allowed us to expand our staff. In September, we welcomed MacKenzie Stroh as our new Director of Communications. MacKenzie comes to us from the Greenville Arts Council where she was their most recent Executive Director. You can read more about MacKenzie here. We are also searching for a Deputy Director of Policy. The job description is posted here if you know anyone who may be interested. Soon, we will be advertising for a Teen Health Coordinator to support our CHART work; the Teen Health job description will be posted alongside the Deputy of Policy position.
  • New Office– We are happy to announce our new office at 125 S. Congress St., Suite 1510, in downtown Jackson.
  • National Education Award- Mississippi First was very honored to be chosen as the PIE Network’s 2013 Game Changer of the Year. Read about this in our press release.
  • 5-Year Anniversary– Mississippi First will celebrate its fifth anniversary in October. Next month’s newsletter will take a look at how far we’ve come!
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CHARTER SCHOOLS
The Mississippi Charter Authorizing Board officially in place
Mississippi’s Charter Schools Act of 2013 created the Mississippi Charter Authorizing Board as a 7-member board that will select, monitor, and renew or non-renew charter schools. The Board was officially established in late August when all appointments were made. Three members were appointed by the Governor, three by the Lieutenant Governor, and one by the State Superintendent of Education. Each of these new appointees will serve at least until January 2014 when the Mississippi State Senate must confirm them. The appointments are below with the appointing authority in italics:

  • Tommie Cardin, Board Chairman (Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves)
  • Bonita Coleman-Potter (Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves)
  • Krystal Cormack (Gov. Phil Bryant)
  • Karen Elam (Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves)
  • Johnny Franklin (Gov. Phil Bryant)
  • Lynn House (Interim Superintendent of Education, Lynn House)
  • Chris Wilson (Gov. Phil Bryant)

The Board held its first organizational meeting in mid-September and elected Tommie Cardin as Chair. The Board must meet several important milestones in the next few months. These include:

Raising start-up funds – No start-up funds were provided for the authorizer as part of the Charter Schools Act of 2013. The new law allows the Authorizing Board to reserve up to 3% of a charter school’s state funds for the Board’s work once charter schools are operational. In the meantime, the Board plans to raise private or foundation funds in order to carry out their responsibilities.
Hiring an Executive Director – The 2013 law envisioned an authorizing board supported by full-time staff led by an executive director. However, because of a strangely drafted sentence, the law requires the Executive Director to also serve as the Board’s legal counsel (i.e., the Executive Director must hold a license to practice law in the State of Mississippi). The Authorizing Board is currently investigating whether they can hire an interim director who may not meet the attorney requirement prior to the state legislature reconvening and amending the law. Whomever the Board chooses to hire as the ED is the most important decision the Board will make before the charter applications are received.
Finalizing charter application procedures – The law requires the Board to release a request-for-proposals (RFP) for the first round of charter school applications no later than December 1, 2013. At that time, the Board will need to have adopted not only an application but a rubric for judging proposals and an application process and timeline. Once proposals are received, the Board has no more than 180 days to render a decision per the new law.
Charter-related updates will come rather frequently as we move closer to the the December 1 deadline. Stay tuned to MSF.
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CHART INITIATIVE
Creating Healthy and Responsible Teens
September has been a very busy month for implementation of the CHART Abstinence-Plus policy. The CHART team conducted three teacher trainings (2 middle school and 1 high school) in which we trained over 75 teachers to teach the Draw the Line/Respect the Line (Grades 6-8) and Reducing the Risk (9th Grade) curricula. MSF’s focus will now shift to parent meetings, which are required for each CHART district. Parent meetings give parents the opportunity to review the curriculum, connect with the teachers, and have their questions answered. Sanford led the first parent meeting of the fall in the West Tallahatchie School District; the CHART team will hold several more in the coming weeks.

33 of our 34 Year 1 districts have already agreed to continue their participation. It is still uncertain if Jackson Public Schools will participate in Year 2. If they do so, the district’s middle school teachers will likely be trained after the new year as the delay in decision-making has led to a delay in implementation. For more questions about the CHART initiative, please contact Deputy Director Sanford Johnson at sanford (at) mississippifirst.org.
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PRE KINDERGARTEN
State-funded preK implementation
Last April, the Legislature passed the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013. The new law, authored by Senator Brice Wiggins and Representative Toby Barker, is the first-ever state-funded preK program in Mississippi and was based largely on the policy framework recommended by Mississippi First in our issue brief, Leaving Last in Line. The new preK program uses collaborative delivery–a system in which all providers (whether public, private, or Head Start) can participate in service delivery as long as each provider meets state standards required by the law. These standards cover areas such as curriculum and assessment, teacher qualifications, student-teacher ratios, and parental involvement, among others. In order to qualify for funds, providers must form local collaboratives, which are councils of early education providers led by either the local school district or a local nonprofit. Providers in a collaborative will then write one, joint application to be submitted through the collaborative for how they intend to serve children in their community.

The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) is tasked with implementing the bill. They will select which collaboratives will receive initial funding in addition to monitoring and evaluating those collaboratives. Last spring, the Legislature appropriated $3M for the collaboratives. Each collaborative must match state funds on a 1:1 basis. The Legislature also approved a $3M tax credit that enables businesses and individuals to donate to collaboratives to offset the size of their local match. Depending on the size of each funded collaborative, we estimate Mississippi may have between 3 and 7 collaboratives funded in the first phase of implementation.
Currently, the MDE is working hard to construct the application for the first round of preK collaborative awards. MDE hopes to announce grant awards by December 2013. They have also set up a listserv for interested parties. Click here to subscribe to the listserv. We expect to see an announcement about the application in the coming weeks.
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SCHOOL TURNAROUND
Common Core State Standards
By now, many Mississippians have already heard about Common Core. Simply put, the Common Core State Standards are a set of literacy and math standards that have been adopted by 45 states. These standards are far more rigorous than our current standards and are designed to promote greater critical thinking and college/career readiness. Yet while these standards guide “what students should know and be able to do” at the end of each year, important decisions about how the standards will be taught–curriculum and instruction–will be the work of local districts, schools, and teachers.

In the months ahead, Mississippi First will work with MDE and other partners to increase public knowledge and awareness about Common Core. Public understanding of Common Core is essential in light of the challenging transition process that is underway. Be on the lookout for important Common Core information from Mississippi First.
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EDUCATION AROUND THE STATE
Additional information about Education in Mississippi
Last week, Mississippi chose former D.C. schools administrator Carey Wright as superintendent of education. Click here for the full story.

Lt. Governor Reeves will be hosting a Mississippi Education Symposium in Tupelo on October 29, 2013. For more information, visit the Lt. Governor’s website by clicking here.