The way Becky Glover, the Parents for Public Schools (PPS) East Mississippi Director, tells it,
Chiquita Jones is the modern day Fannie Lou Hamer of education in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
“In the 2011 Parent Leadership Institute, which was the first class in East Mississippi, two people attended from the Philadelphia school district,” said Becky. That started something. The next year, Chiquita went through the PPS training and was the only person from that school district. “She went back and has been able to accomplish and start a variety of things all related to quality public education in Philadelphia.”
Chiquita saw the science test scores in Philadelphia the year she went through PPS training and it broke her heart. State science tests are only given to 5th graders and 8th graders. The next time science related state testing is the high school biology test. “You can see the weakness reflected in all those scores,” said Becky.
Chiquita knew that if that trend continued, her own children might not have a chance of going into a science related field or creating a science related career in their hometown like she had been able to do as a nurse. That was a very personal reason to want to improve education for the children in her community, explained Becky. “She already had the drive to begin with, but looking at her two children really brought it home for her.”
That passion drove Chiquita to go back and do exactly what PPS wants people who go through our training to do.
“That is to go back into your community and share what you learned to try to spark that interest and movement in more people,” said Becky. And Chiquita did it so successfully she recruited 18 applicants just from Philadelphia for the PPS training. “We could have had a class just for Philadelphia, but we ended up taking 14. Literally half the class was one school district,” said Becky. The numbers were awesome, but what was so amazing was the diversity. “There were black and white parents, younger, older, male, female, married couples. “Not only did she spark that kind of movement in her community, but she served as our first PEP (Parent Engagement Program) Graduate Assistant,” said Becky. The PLI (Parent Leader Institute) was changed to PEP (Parent Engagement Program) and the curriculum changed according to feedback from parents and other things the organization saw needed change.
Southern Roots traveled to Philadelphia High School to see about this modern day Fannie Lou Hammer and what exactly was going on in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
“We wanted to have a parents meeting to let them know about the school district itself, how the school district is fairing as far as their state testing, how the state is scoring our school, just to give parents some information,” said Chiquita.
MCT scores are received in the mail and a lot of times parents or guardians don’t know how to read them or know what that data means. “It’s just like looking at foreign language,” said Chiquita. “We wanted to come here tonight, go over some of this data with them and help them understand and encourage them to bring their students’ MCT2 scores to the meeting if they had questions and we would help them go over that.” The goal was to give parents a working knowledge to go back home and be able to decipher what’s going on with their children and find ways to help not only their children, but other children.
Our PPS leaders wanted to have a forum before our city elections which dealt specifically with education. At that forum the last question we asked of all the candidates was, “If you are elected, will you agree to participate in a short PPS training on student achievement and roles of the school board.” Everyone unanimously said, “Yes.”
That resounding “yes” was how this meeting came to be. The PPS leaders had originally planned the meeting for only elected city officials, but decided to make it an opportunity for parents and other community members who needed to learn the same information. Though only one member of the school board attended the meeting every member except one of the Board of Aldermen participated.
“We have four aldermen and one at-large alderman,” said Chiquita. “Each alderman appoints someone from their district to the school board. Mayor James Young always participates in these events and tries to help us find ways to improve.”
One of the ways the people of Philadelphia wanted to make change was by forming their own PPS chapter.
“We began to work a core group of parents that were interested,” said Chiquita. “In 2012, Mr. Cecil Hooker and I had a meeting in the coliseum and we wanted to inform the people about the things that we learned in PPS leadership Institute.” Through that meeting, the two gathered a core group of parents together that were interested in the educational issues being discussed. One of the parents, Joey Kilgore had shown interest in starting a PPS Chapter in Philadelphia so the group of parents worked together and went through the Parent Engagement Program. “One of our goals was to become a chapter.” The group filed the application and went through the normal back and forth with PPS regarding edits, goal specifications, etc. On Monday, April 21, 2014, the Philadelphia group received word that they had been accepted as a chapter.
“We have a core group of 15 and a larger list of people who have attended meetings. We have had from 30 to 40 people attend some of our meetings and every time we have a new meeting, we see new faces.”
The Philadelphia Parents for Public School Chapter wants to accomplish many goals for their school district, including better technology, more books, and tablets and laptops for the students at school. Parent engagement is a big goal, so recruiting parents is a priority. Community involvement means more grant opportunities for the school system.
Why should parents of children attending private schools and even those who have no children at all be interested in public education?
“Our community is only as great as the students at the lowest level. So we want to bring those students up to the higher level,” said Chiquita. “We pay taxes for our public schools so we want that money to be used efficiently.” Also, businesses analyze prospective communities according to the success of the public school system. Property values go up according to the school ratings. “Therefore, even if you don’t have children in public school or if you don’t have children at all, your community’s public school system affects your quality of life and quality of place. You want to focus on making your public school the strongest that it can be.”
“I encourage everybody, whether a parent, community member, grandparent, aunt uncle, or community member to take time to visit your public schools, see what you can do to help. The smallest thing can mean the most to a child.”
(See accompanying video on Chiquita Jones for her comments)