When you talk about the role of the Mississippi Private School Association (MPSA) in the year 2006, it is important realize that a lot has changed since the days when many private schools were formed in order to avoid integration.
“Initially, a large number of school were founded for white-flight reasons,” said Peter Jernberg, president and head of school at Jackson Academy. “I’m in my 38th year in education. Both private schools I have been associated with have had very strong non-discriminatory policies. That is very important to me personally. Over the past three to four decades, philosophically the MPSA has become very inclusive. That has been a real positive. Some schools have all African-American student bodies.”
Jackson Academy is one of 117 private schools in the state that are members of the MPSA. Jernberg has been involved with the MPSA since its inception. He was at Indianola Academy for 21 years, first as a teacher and then later as headmaster, and has been head of Jackson Academy for the past 18 years.
The MPSA was formed to insure relationships among schools in the athletic as well as academic arenas. Jernberg said the primary purpose of MPSA and the schools who belong to the organization is strong academic excellence in an atmosphere with high moral values.
“A very important function of MPSA schools is that they promote and endorse a value-based approach to education,” Jernberg said. “There is a strong emphasis on the importance of faith, and attentiveness to the well being of students in their development. There is also dedication to strong academic excellence as evidenced by strong accreditation standards, and professional development as evidenced by the work and service that is done by the Mississippi Private School Teachers Association.”
By banding together, the private schools benefit through accreditation, professional growth for teachers, athletic competition opportunities, and leadership opportunities through the state student council association.
Jernberg said he became a part of the non-public school movement because of job opportunities, not initially for any philosophical reasons. His experience has been that private education works well in putting students on a path to success as an adult. About 98% of Jackson Academy graduates go on to a four-year college.
Teachers and staff don’t get all the credit.“One of the great advantages I have seen in my experience in private education is the strength of our schools is in great part parents who value education and who partner with our schools in insuring that a quality education and value-oriented environment is provided,” he said. “There is a great dedication to that.”
While he thinks private schools have something to brag about with low dropout rates and high achievement by students, Jernberg makes it clear that he also supports public education.
“I don’t want our association to come across as anti-public education,” Jernberg said. “Public education is going to educate 90% of our children in Mississippi. Therefore, we have to be supportive of public education. But for the 10% who are educated in the non-public sector, the MPSA and schools are doing a great service from the standpoint of how they educate those students entrusted to them. They are doing outstanding work.”
The mission statement of the MPSA is to “Certify Educational Integrity.”
“The most important service that we provide is school accreditation, assuring parents whose children attend MPSA schools that teachers are certified, and that standards are met in all areas of a school’s operation,” said David Derrick, executive director, MPSA. “The MPSA also has oversight of athletics and activities, much the same as the Mississippi High School Athletic Association does for our public schools.”
The MPSA is recognized by the IHL, the Mississippi State Department of Education, the community college system and the Mississippi State Department of Health. Schools accredited by the MPSA have all rights and privileges earned through these recognitions. Students also benefit from the reciprocity granted the MPSA because they are recognized as graduates of accredited high schools. The MPSA also carries a full agenda of athletic competitions, most of which conclude with state championships.
Currently, approximately 39,000 students are being educated by schools that belong to the MPSA. There are also other private school associations. It is estimated about 10% of students in Mississippi attend private schools. Derrick said that is about the same as the national average.
Enrollment in private schools has been very stable over the past 10 years, Derrick said, although MPSA’s total enrollment is actually up about 800 students this year.
Obviously, private education is costly. “Funding is always a top priority,” Derrick said. “Our schools do not draw from a tax base. Their funding comes primarily from tuition and fees. As the demands of technology, capital improvements, teacher salaries and benefits and utilities continue to climb, member schools are beginning to rely on outside giving to meet these fiscal demands. The shortage of teachers in the critical teaching areas, like upper-level sciences and maths, and the shortage in certified administrators are also challenges in our arena.”
For students who want vocational training, MPSA schools have a relationship with local community colleges.
“Their schedules are integrated to include the academic requirements as well as their vocational needs,” he said. “But since 90% or more of our students continue on to post-secondary education, the demand for vocational and workforce training is usually small. But it is available.”
For more information, see the Web site www.mpsa.org.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.