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TRIP BURNS

A Minister and a School Man // by R.L. Nave

J

ackson Public Schools Superintendent Cedrick Gray estimates that his family has attended worship services at 20 to 30 different churches in his first six months on the job. Gray, a minister who grew up in Memphis and took the helm at JPS in July 2012, believes visiting local houses of worship is a good way to get to know the capital city. “The decision of a church home is very important to me as a minister. I have to consider what my service of the church will be,” Gray said. Gray talked to BOOM Jackson about ways JPS and Jackson residents can better serve each other.

What role do you think JPS has in making Jackson a great city? By wrapping ourselves around the community, just making schools a place for the community. The second part is improving on the success of the students as they leave our high schools, so that they can become productive citizens. The last part, I think, is a collective effort. Schools, churches and the communities have always depended on one another. Work. Live. Play. Prosper.

It seems to me that more recently, though, they’ve become entities unto themselves. … What we need to do is open our doors and invite community members and churches to come in and do after-school activities and, during the day, mentoring and et cetera. The other part of that is to begin to do the opposite. … Students can take on service projects to help. … That’s the direction we’re moving in, as schools start to become not only recipients of what the community has to give to but also become a “giver-back” to the community in ways that might not have been done before.

What about the flip side of that? How can Jacksonians help JPS be great? We’re working with a new project called Alignment Jackson. It’s a think tank, an effort to take Jackson Public Schools’ strategic goals to the community. One project I’d like to do—and this is how the community can help—is establish academic institutes that are specific to a career, such as the medical field. That’s literally a clinic inside the school, where students who are interested in the medical field, for example, will be able to choose this specific course of study and then

actively work on an internship, while they’re in high school, with doctors and nurses. That will require some community outreach.

I’ve seen you around the Capitol. What conversations around education are you most excited about? The parts that excite me are the emphasis on building stronger teachers. That’s pretty exciting to me. I think what it would do is show the world that the field of education is important, and it’s important to attract top talent. The other piece I was excited (about) was the governor’s plan to add more money to early childhood education, because students who are prepared as they enter kindergarten and first grade will have more success in our high schools.

What are your thoughts on charter schools? Our job is to make Jackson Public Schools the most attractive and successful option—and we don’t want to do that in response to anything. We want to do it because that’s what our children deserve. They deserve the best education we can provide, and that’s what we’re going to do for them. 13

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