Ready for Work: Jackson-Madison County Schools Produce Top Talent
Jackson-Madison County Schools invest in programs and facilities that prepare students for the region's in-demand jobs.
As the largest school district in West Tennessee outside of Shelby County, the Jackson-Madison School System is a major driver of workforce development in the region.
The school serves more than 13,000 students, providing an impressive menu of services and courses to prepare graduates for college and careers. New career readiness programs, along with new school facilities, ensure a pipeline of talent continually flows to the region’s growing industries.
Investing in the Future
The school system and the community continue to invest in the system’s physical spaces as well as in new technologies to give students a distinct advantage.
For example, in 2021, the new Jackson Central-Merry, which serves grades 6-12, opened with classrooms specifically designed for STEM-based learning. In addition, the school’s Early College High School partners with Jackson State Community College to allow students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an associate degree in one of four high-demand career pathways, including IT, health care, education and manufacturing.
“Students often learn what they want to pursue as a future profession. Students may also learn what they do not want to pursue as a future profession. However, they have learned valuable work-readiness skills through the process,” says Dr. Nathan Lewis, principal of Jackson Central-Merry Early College High School and the career and technical education director for the Jackson-Madison County School System. “Students are also exposed to jobs and skills that many of them would not have firsthand experience of in any other manner.”
In 2022, Madison Academic High School, which offers a rigorous college preparatory curriculum, welcomed students to a renovated facility that now features more space for learning, including four new science labs. The school also partners with the University of Memphis to offer students access to the university’s athletic facilities and classrooms for dual enrollment courses.
These improvements help prepare students for local careers, says Dr. Teresa McSweeney, chief innovation officer for the Jackson-Madison County School System.
“Jackson-Madison County School graduates provide most of the workforce for Madison County employers. JMCSS engages with local post-secondary institutions to create a pipeline of skilled workers,” McSweeney says. “Community partnerships with local employers provide work-based learning opportunities for high school students through our Local Options and Opportunities Program (LOOP).”
Staying in the LOOP
The LOOP program allows students to spend half the school day in teacher-supported online instruction and the second half working at one of the designated industry sites. As a result, not only do students gain valuable technical and soft skills, but they are also compensated for their work. The program focuses on in-demand career pathways, and students are placed with partner companies in advanced manufacturing, food services, environmental services, distribution and energy.
The flagship program model with manufacturer Stanley Black & Decker provides an academic learning space for district students and an administrative space for the JMCSS LOOP coordinator. In addition, the district provides certified teachers as instructional support, so students report directly to their worksite to complete their graduation course requirements before, during or after their work shift, McSweeney says.
“Work-based learning provides opportunities for students to learn how to apply, interview and complete onboarding tasks for employment,” McSweeney says. “Our LOOP students participate in selection interviews with the hiring partners and supervising managers. Our LOOP partners consider our students full-time employees. Our students complete the full onboarding process, including background checks, physicals and orientations. Several of our LOOP students have been offered full-time employment upon graduation.”
Other LOOP partner companies include West Tennessee Healthcare, Jackson Energy Authority, Delta Faucet and Sonoco Products.
“Additionally, employers benefit from hiring students who enter the workforce for the very first time, often embracing training and skill acquisition with eagerness and enthusiasm,” Lewis says.
Want to know more?
If you’d like to learn more about the Jackson area, check out the latest edition of Livability Jackson, TN.