JACKSON — Parents for Public Schools, a national private non-profit organization that was formed in Jackson, may sound like something only for, well, parents. But, says Susan Womack, executive director of the organization’s Jackson chapter, it is something the business community seriously needs to consider getting involved in as well.
Joe Bennett, president of the Jackson chapter’s board of directors, said, “It’s something they (businesses) need to look at from a purely self-interested point of view. If we don’t have good schools we won’t attract the kind of business to Mississippi we need, and high-tech businesses we need and want, in Mississippi. We’ve got to have a well educated workforce and we don’t need to do remedial training after people have left high school.”
Bennett believes the answer is to “catch kids up on the front end and make sure every stage on the educational road that they’re on grade, on course and up to the skill level they need.”
Like many others, Bennett believes that only when one educates children and gives them better options will crime go down.
“The answer is to give children opportunities to be productive citizens,” he said.
And Bennett said schools need the assistance of the business community in doing so.
“I think business has a critical role to play but I don’t mean for this to sound like an indictment to business. I think it’s going to take all the elements of a community to make schools better.”
PPS has a number of programs geared toward parents in the community. What started as a recruiting organization for public schools has now changed its mission to promote public education. The primary focus of PPS in Jackson is school improvement throughout the district-to provide quality education for all children, not just a select few.
“One thing that Parents for Public Schools has considered for a long time and we firmly believe, and the reason we do so much collaborative work is that we’ve reached a time in society where schools in and of themselves are not going to reform by themselves,” Womack said. “It’s going to require the support of parents, the public and private sector, businesses, all kinds of organizations coming together to support that effort. We believe there are strong schools where support is strong; weak where the support is weak.”
A number of PPS programs are bringing businesses into the organization’s collaborative efforts. Its importance extends far beyond school walls.
Bennett said the top three concerns of Jackson citizens are crime, high taxes and the school system.
“You’ll find the solution in good public schools,” he said. “If we attract businesses to Jackson, you’ll see families and businesses coming to Jackson and that all contributes to the tax base.”
And Bennett said the issue of good schools in Jackson is not simply a Jackson issue.
“Bedroom communities are too close to Jackson to think the problems Jackson has are only Jackson’s problems,” he said. “If infrastructure collapses in Jackson it will have a ripple effect. Be aware they can’t move far enough away from Jackson.”
Womack said PPS has a track record of working with the Jackson Public School District and with different organizations in the community on collaborative efforts.
“From that standpoint I think we’ve sort of founded ourselves as a viable organization in the community. We can help create the dialogue that can result in possible solutions and ideas that will help us transform the schools and make them stronger.”
Jan Daigre is president of the Vicksburg-Warren Chapter of PPS. The chapter which was started a year and a half ago has seen many changes in the school system since it formed, including the building of two “mega-schools,” the hiring of a new superintendent and the closing of neighborhood schools. Daigre felt many parents were lost after the changes took place.
But Daigre’s chapter has developed a strategic plan to get parents and businesses involved.
“We have wonderful possibilities in the Vicksburg-Warren School District,” Daigre said. “I have always had very high hopes for our public school system. Unfortunately I think we’ve not done as well as we think we could do. Change is difficult.”
There are PPS chapters all over the United States.
To become a member of the Jackson PPS chapter, contact parent advocate on staff Dana Larkin at (601) 353-1335. Or to start a chapter, contact clearinghouse director Jane Beach at (601) 354-1220.
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at email@example.com or (601) 364-1042.